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Credit Scores

October 31st, 2013 at 10:25 am

If you're like me, you've wondered at some point how they come up with that strange "credit score" that all of our borrow, and many of our payments are affected by, if not controlled by. I was browsing the Experian site, and came across the following.


30% of your credit score is based on your credit usage
Credit usage refers to how much money you've spent on accounts that have credit limits, such as credit cards. Also called a utilization rate, it measures your total balances compared to the total of your credit limits. High credit usage or utilization rate is a strong indicator of credit risk and can lessen your ability to gain new loans.

31% of your credit score is based on your payment history
The most significant factor in determining your credit score is your payment history and making your payments on time. Late payments remain on your credit report for 7 years from the original delinquency date. The original delinquency date is the payment date that was first reported late by your creditor.

15% of your credit score is based on the age of your accounts
Having a lengthy credit history shows lenders you have an established record of managing your debt. Closing older accounts, such as credit cards could negatively impact your credit score. Experian retains closed accounts with no negative information associated with them for 10 years from the date they are reported closed. As a result, positive credit information remains on your credit report longer than most negative information, such as late payments.

14% of your credit score is based on the types of accounts you have
There are four basic types of credit: Real Estate Loans, Installment Loans, Credit Cards, and Retail Cards. Having a good mixture of credit types along with high quality accounts, such as a mortgage loan, shows lenders you can manage your credit responsibly.

10% of your credit score is based on inquiries or "credit checks"
Every time you apply for credit, a "hard inquiry" is placed on your credit report. Having too many hard inquiries could indicate to lenders that you're trying to overspend. Hard inquiries stay on your report for 2 years.


So that's at least how one bureau does it.

Updates, Not All Financial

October 29th, 2013 at 09:17 am

I guess I've waited long enough to post again here.

My mother and father are doing as well as can be expected. My father had a simple heart procedure - pretty much an external one-time pacemaker-level shock - to quiet his atrial fibrillation. Everything is now hunky dory, there. He also had a stress test and pretty much passed with flying colors. He has the heart of a thirty year old. Not bad for a 78 year old, I'd say.

On the not-so-good side, my mom's dementia is progressing. She's also been diagnosed with mild osteoporosis. My younger brother (divorced and kids are grown) moved in with them to help them out. My dad is in great shape, but he is still 78 years old. Getting old really stinks. Baby brother is now job hunting in the Richmond, VA area. I don't know the job market there, but he's always managed to do well. I'm just glad there's someone younger around in case my folks need the help.

MIL is now in a convalescent home recovering from her surgery. She's not extremely healthy, but they're very optimistic that they got all the cancer. They're still putting her through a round of treatment (I think radiation), but I think that's more precautionary more than anything else. She is slated to be back in her house before Thanksgiving.

My knee MRI results are "bad, but not bad enough for surgery." They didn't add, "So deal with it," but it almost sounded like they said it, to my ear.

On the financial front, DW has finished installing the new french doors. I really like them, and they came in a few thousand dollars under budget, but still a few thousand more than I wanted to pay. I will admit that the installers did a better and much quicker job of it than I could have done. I know they're better than the old doors, because when DW and I were on Facetime, she opened the new door, I immediately heard the train whistle from about ten blocks away. With the old doors, I'd have heard the train before she opened the door. DW also says they seal better than the old doors. Maybe this will get our utility bills under $100 per month. That's a milestone I wouldn't mind hitting. The bills were originally in the $400 per month range when I first started energy upgrades.

The painters have also finished repainting inside and out. When they started, I felt this wasn't really necessary, but they found some water damage, which was repaired relatively early. If they had not found that damage, I'm sure I would have had a much larger bill to fix the additional damage whenever the damage would have been later found. So, although I didn't want the house repainted, it was a good thing DW had it done, after all.

Debt repayment is progressing apace. The doors are two payments away from complete. We put them on a 0% card just for the convenience factor. We could wait longer to pay them off, but I'm just as glad that they'll be paid off before January. I hate credit card balances. DW's car payoff is going OK. Still a ton owed, but with a 1.19% interest rate, I'd rather leave my money in the mutual funds than pull it out for the car. We'll just cash-flow the payments. It should be paid off in less than two years, and maybe sooner.

I sent the "contract" about the Bank of Mom & Pop loan to DD2 and SIL2. I told them that there was no need for a signature - it's not like we'll sue them if they don't repay it - but I wanted to make sure everyone was aware of the terms. I included a "late payment" penalty of 1% per month after 90 days, but I set back the "first payment" date to January of 2014. They were happy with the terms (0% interest and about a ten year term), which is not surprising.

About my bonus... I'm quite upset. They still haven't paid me for my April bonus. They have reasons, but those reasons are now sounding like excuses to me. Things go more slowly over here, but we are beyond a reasonable delay, in my mind. I plan to speak to our CFO tomorrow to sort this out once and for all.

I will be traveling back to the US over the Thanksgiving holidays. I hope to see my folks and all of my brothers. All four of us children are planning to be there, but I haven't got the details of their planned visits. Time is growing short, so I need to get on the stick about this. It has been over 25 years since all four of us got together at the same time. Two of us live in Texas, though I reside in Dubai. One lives in the DC area. My folks are just outside Richmond, VA. Baby brother just moved in with my folks from Kansas. Maybe his move means we'll all get together more often, but probably not. We keep in touch by phone and such, but to actually get all of us in the same city has just not happened much. It is mostly my fault, as I've lived in Europe and the Middle East for much of my life, and traveled frequently for my entire adult life, rarely visiting when I'm not on the road.

DW and I slowed our mutual fund purchases to cover the water damage repairs. It turns out we pretty much skipped October, but we'll make it up in December, or when I get my bonus. I could pay off DW's car with the bonus, but it's ear-marked for retirement instead. That's part of the "great car compromise" DW and I made. DW's early move back to the US is having more of a financial impact than I would have liked. She has held off on buying new furniture, at least, other than the beds and other assorted items. Only one room really needs new stuff, but of course it's the living room. That's better than another Tempurpedic mattress, anyway.

More Medical Maladies

September 17th, 2013 at 03:16 pm

My father is 78 years old. He's in excellent health over all.

I got an email from him. He was admitted to the hospital with atrial fibrillation. At least, I think that's what it is called. They monitored him overnight, then changed his prescription for BP medication and released him. He's downplaying it, but 78 years old is still 78 years old.

The same day as the above, I finally went to the doctor. I told him what happened, and will be having an MRI soon. The orthopedist thinks I've torn my ACL (is there more than one of those?). The thing is, I tore it when I was in my 20's, but it's just now causing me intense pain. I must have turned my knee wrong while working or climbing onto a drilling rig last week. I'm in a knee brace, taking pain meds, and rubbing cortisone on my knee three times a day.

MIL had a scan done, and the doctors are very upbeat about her condition. They think that a mastectomy, removal of the lymph nodes, and a short period of radiation treatment will take care of all of her issues. Prayers or wishes for the doctors' correct prognosis are welcome.

DW, at least, is doing well. She's mostly moved back in, and has finished most of the unpacking. Our storage locker has been released, so we're now $132 more per month into our pocket. The price had just increased two months earlier. I forget what it had been, but it was around $10 per month cheaper. She is upbeat about her mom when I talk to her, but I know she must feel stressed.

I offered both DW and my father the option of me coming back for a couple of weeks. Both of them declined. I'll wait and see, and keep my options open.

I can't win for losing

September 16th, 2013 at 01:28 am

This isn't very financial in nature, though it definitely touches on financial plans.

The doors arrived and once unpacked were damaged, so the house updates are not even started. Most of the interior is painted, and DW has moved everything out of storage and back into the house. That's $132 (there was a recent increase) per month no longer being paid out.

We received news that MIL has breast cancer that has already metastasized to the lymph nodes. MRI coming soon to see the extent. DW will be going up to visit, so that's a plane flight that wasn't planned. Also, dog watcher to pay. Also, all the other associated travel bills.

Of course, DW had already allocated the main EF for her move back to the US, so we're hitting investment funds for this; not already-invested money, we're just not putting any more toward retirement while we get over this hurdle.

Luckily, I have a bonus coming within the month. That should set things right again, but some of it will need to be sent to Uncle Sugar for taxes. Just when we needed the cash, too.

At least DD2 has finished her move in to her new place. I'm sure she and DW are glad to be under different roofs. (editor's note: Why is the plural of "roof" = "roofs" but the plural of "hoof" = "hooves?")

We've postponed DW's return to Dubai so she can take care of her mom. Sometimes you just have to make sacrifices for the good of others. DW lost her father years ago, so her mom is all she has left.

Both of my parents are still alive. My father is doing very well; still very active in his late 70's. My mother, though, is having severe age-related memory problems. It is not impeding her apparent quality of life, but her lack of short-term memory is very noticeable. She's seeing specialists and on medication. My father says her symptoms seem to be arrested at the current stage. It's really quite sad to see this happen.

Getting old stinks, but it certainly beats the only alternative I'm aware of: dying young.

What is your life worth?

September 11th, 2013 at 03:09 pm

So, you would think that this question would be philosophical, but in my case, I think it is literal. I've been in contact with a company in a very unsafe country, especially for Americans.

I qualify for the position they need to fill - there is no doubt of that - but eventually, I'll be required to state how much money it would take to get me to the location.

I've been in dangerous locations in the past. In the military, I was shot at and had mortar rounds lobbed my way. They didn't pay me any extra. We weren't even in a combat zone, because of Congress. Personally, I figured if someone was trying to kill you and folks around you, it should count, but I'm not a lawyer or tax accountant, so what do I know?

The position I have now has great growth potential, and I'm in a secure area. It pays well. I have a great bonus plan and its limit is pretty much set by me.

The question becomes, how much would you have to get over and above your present position to go somewhere that is relatively unsafe? Figure you'll be there for ten years, for maximum benefit.

What do you think? Is $100K per year enough? How about $250K more than you're making now? Or would you need even more? I'm considering the position, but I know the "How much would you cost" question will eventually be asked.

How much is your safety worth?

...And One Step Back

September 4th, 2013 at 05:34 pm

Well, the elation didn't last long.

Just got a call from DW. It seems that when the painters showed up to do the back bedroom - let's just say that DD2's style doesn't match our own - they found a sponge where the wall should be in the closet.

Further investigation (tearing out not-so-drywall) revealed that there was some damage to the sill plate, and water coming from somewhere.

The good news is that it is not from the plumbing. Apparently, our AC drain is too close to the wall, and it's been seeping onto our slab and from there to the wall. It was caught early, but it's going to cost about $1K to fix it. If I were there... maybe $100.

Anyway, the main problem is to eliminate the situation and then repair the house. Total cost will include new sill plate, some dry wall, some texturing to match the existing wall, and the paint.

That doesn't sound like one thousand dollars to me, but it certainly looks like that on the quote sheet. I have to pay. This is yet another cost of living overseas while maintaining a house in the US.

Baby Step 15

September 1st, 2013 at 03:24 am

Anyone who has listened to Dave Ramsey (insert evil or triumphant music here, depending on your proclivities), knows he suggests "baby steps" for paying off your debt.

As a reminder, his steps are:

1. Save $1000 for an emergency fund.
2. Pay off all consumer debt sans mortgage.
3. Save up 6 months of expenses.
4. Put 15% toward retirement.
5. Save for kids' college.
6. Pay off your mortgage.

The last time we were paying off debt - and now we're doing it again, but that was last month's biotch - we didn't follow his plan for the debt snowball (lowest balance to highest balance). We also didn't follow the debt tsunami (highest interest rate to lowest interest rate). We followed the "loans then lines of credit." DW and I figured it's easier to not ask for another loan (paperwork) than to leave a credit card alone (swipe! cha-ching!).

Fast forward to now. DW just bought a new car, made some home improvements, is buying some furniture, and loaned some money to DD2 and her DH for their new house home improvements. So, we have consumer debt again as well as our mortgage.

So, we're on baby step 15:

We're paying off her new loans at a good clip (yes, already): Baby step 2
We're saving up the emergency fund again: Baby step 3 (total: 5)
We're putting more than 15% toward retirement (baby step 4: total 9)
And we're paying down the mortgage (Baby step 6: total 15)

This is possible because the "great car compromise" included NOT buying another house. We aren't building that fund until baby step 15 (or at least through "9") is done. I think we've already got step 3 back in place, more or less. I still have the "float" and there is still quite a bit of "furniture money" in the checking account, so I'm not worried on those lines. I would like a bit more cushion, though.

We should be back on an even keel - only car and house, with full EF - before the end of the year, with both the car and house still being attacked quickly.

Won't Power

August 25th, 2013 at 02:19 am

"Won't Power" is a new phrase I've just coined. It is the opposite of "will power."

How do you use your won't power? When you're at the store and you see a cute outfit that would be great for work, but that you don't have in your budget? You tell yourself, "I won't buy it." When you pass by the candy aisle at the grocery store, you tell yourself, "I won't need those calories." When you see the iPhone X come out, you say, "I won't need any new functions, my old phone still does what I need."

How do you develop "won't power?" You keep looking at the big picture down the road. Do you want a house more than you want those shoes? Do you want to fund your children's college more than you want that mocha latte? Do you want to get rid of your debt more than you want another 0.3 inches on your phone screen? Do you want to retire and travel to see your grandkids, or do you want to rely on social security to pay your electric bill?

I think I've got some problems keeping my won't power at full strength, but it's definitely better than it has been.

Lastly, the bane to "won't power" is "want power." If you really, really, really want that big screen TV, it's hard to muster the "won't power" to overcome the urge. Maybe tape a picture of your child and a photo of your diploma to your credit card. That should tend to limit the want power and reinforce the won't power, I would think.

Work Woes

August 12th, 2013 at 09:47 pm

Well, I'm up at 1:40 in the morning because of work. We had a meeting with a big client today, and things did not go well.

We're involved in a huge project, and since we're the electrical group, we're always the last ones to finish. Mainly, this is because we cannot start until everyone else is finished. For illustration, think about a house being built: You can't pull wire until the walls and roof are up, and you can't hang fixtures until the drywall and painting are done. It's the same, but different, on large industrial projects.

We're at the final push on this large project. Since "everyone else" is done, electrical is being told we have to finish everything ahead of schedule to keep the entire project on schedule.

I'm up early to work out team schedules to see if we can do three weeks of work in one week. I'm not extremely optimistic, but if I can come close, then we'll be heroes.

I'm not expecting to be heroes. We were given a very large part of the project on 25 July because the shipyard abdicated the ability to finish it in time. They've been working on it since March. We have to have it done and tested on the 22nd; less than a month in total.

The real problem with this is that even if we finish on time, we'll get no recognition for it. And the reason I'm actually upset? I was lied to by the client's project manager. It was all I could do to keep my mouth shut and not call him out on it. I guess this is why they pay me to do this job. There's no way I'd do it for free.

No Printer yet

August 8th, 2013 at 01:53 am

After work today (tomorrow starts a long holiday weekend), I stopped by three different electronics stores. I was looking for the Canon portable printer that's most similar to the IP100. I have an IP90, and I had both an IP70 and another IP90 over the years. I like the quality and durability of the canon portable printers. For reference, I bought an HP portable, and it didn't even survive its first trip offshore.

I went to three different retailers over here, and none of them carried the printer in question. You can definitely find this printer here, but I will have to make a trip to the one store where I know it was carried earlier this year when I saw it and didn't buy it.

Dubai is very cosmopolitan, but the political structure segregates different brands to the importer who got the exclusive contract. If the brands don't choose an exclusive importer among the Emirati elite, they don't get in. It stinks for those of us peons who aren't benefitting from the lack of competition, but it keeps the income of the powerful at a reasonable (from their point of view) level.

I know the same store also had my scanner, so that's where I'll be shopping today.

See? I can spend money if I have to.

I just haven't done it yet.

Maybe It's Me

August 6th, 2013 at 01:57 am

Many of you have seen and commented on my rant about DW spending and using our debt cards - they certainly aren't credit cards - to do upgrades and changes around the house.

Yesterday, my portable scanner failed. It just doesn't work anymore. I've had it about four years, and I used to use it all the time. Well, about 8 months ago, my portable printer failed. It didn't really fail, but the ink "spilled" (I don't have a better word for it) inside the printer so it leaves a colorful "trail" along one edge of the paper, and that trail is just not going away.

Anyway, I use these a lot when I travel for work, but I haven't been able to use the printer for nearly a year. So, why haven't I bought a new printer? And why did I almost cringe when I thought about buying a new scanner when I decided it was actually broken?

I think the pendulum has gone too far, and I've become too averse to spending money. I think I need to loosen up more and go a bit back toward my old spendy self, just not all the way toward my old self. I'll just have to remember to remove the ink cartridges when I pack up my printer. And that scanner... well, this will be my fourth one in the last 12 years or so. I guess the scanners are just consumable.

There's no "shopping around" over here for anything. Many of the stores have Ramadan sales going on now, so I think I'll go out today and see if any of the electronics stores have printers and scanners on sale. I'm not holding my breath.

There go the Trees

August 4th, 2013 at 04:33 pm

When I was back in the US, I noticed some peculiar damage to the trees in our back yard. We live in Houston, TX, and the power company can come in and trim any trees away from power lines to help limit wide-spread, long-term outages when storms blow through.

Four of our trees, three oaks and a pecan, are on the easement, and they keep getting butchered every time the power company does their trimming.

The damage I noted, though, was near the bottoms of the trunks, but above where a weed eater or other lawn tool would hit; maybe three feet (one meter) up from the ground. The bark was splitting, leaving very large spots that had bare wood under them. Trees are very, very long term investments, so we scheduled an arborist to come out and look at them, in the hope that we could nurture the trees back to health.

The diagnosis is dire. First off, the "best tree," which is an elm off the easement and closer to the house has been hit by lightning, probably multiple times. It is dead on the inside, and the arborist said we have about two more years before it must come down. We're not waiting two years. The tree is too large to risk it falling, and I lost a porch on my last place because I went too long before removing a dying tree.

The four trees in the easement have been butchered badly by the power crews - I don't blame the crews, because the benefit to the majority of the people outweighs my personal losses. The damage is so bad that these trees, too, need to come out. Two of the oaks have lost their capillary layer, and just don't know they're dead yet. The pecan is structurally dangerous now, which we already suspected. I don't know what's wrong with the other oak.

Long story synopsis: I'm losing all of my backyard trees, and it's going to cost about $3K to take them out. I've already asked DW to go to the "good" nursery near our house to start shopping for new trees. We're probably going to put in fairly large trees, because we don't have 30 years to wait to have "real" trees.

The good news is that the trees in the front are healthy, including the oak I put in to replace a tree I had taken out 5 years ago after Hurricane Ike. So, the curb appeal is not affected, only the backyard ambiance.

DW has agreed to wait to pay cash for this, at least. It is not an emergency, so we're going to pay for it without hitting the debt cards. We'll probably have it done before Christmas.

I'm going to miss those trees.

Babyboomers' Finances

August 3rd, 2013 at 04:23 am

http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2013-07-28/35-facts-scare-baby...

This article, which links to sources that may or may not be genuine or accurate*, makes quite a few interesting statements.

I don't know how true it is, but I don't doubt the vast majority of the statements. Some of them that give one pause for thought:

2. According to one recent poll, 25 percent of all Americans in the 46 to 64-year-old age bracket have no retirement savings at all.

8. Today, one out of every six elderly Americans lives below the federal poverty line.

13. A poll conducted by CESI Debt Solutions found that 56 percent of American retirees still had outstanding debts when they retired.

34. According to a recent survey conducted by Americans for Secure Retirement, 88 percent of all Americans are worried about "maintaining a comfortable standard of living in retirement".


That last one is at least a little bit encouraging. At least most people are aware that something is wrong. Maybe a few of them might actually do something about it.


* I didn't check the linked sources and I'm not vouching for the accuracy of any of the items listed in the linked article itself.

Vent or Explode

August 2nd, 2013 at 08:31 pm

Arrrrgh! Just got off the phone with DW.

Begin rant

DW and I used to have very significant non-mortgage debt. Through diligence and dedication, we paid off or sold off well over $100K in a relatively short period of time. We've been "except for mortgage" debt free for quite a while, and the money has been going to retirement accounts and investments since then, as well as accelerating the mortgage pay off.

We were left with our only debt being a relatively low mortgage principal due. Late last year, I had worked out an amortization schedule on that (remember, I'm still an Excel nerd), and determined we could pay the whole thing off in less than a year. I ran some numbers on a refinance and determined that the interest rate reduction wouldn't cover the closing fees over the period we could reasonably expect to pay off the loan.

Fast forward to now. DW is back in the US setting up home again in our "old" house, and she's spending like a Congressman who doesn't have an opponent for the next term. Between the BMP loan to the kids, a new bed (gotta be Tempurpedic, not just memory foam), a new garage door (yeah, that's an emergency, right?), repainting the outside of the house that really doesn't need it except for cosmetic reasons (paint is for protection, not beauty), the two sets of new French doors, and her new car LOAN... well the EF is gone.

She's starting to use the credit cards. I told her that I'm NOT cashing in any of the mutual funds for this (after tax, no penalty, but we're not going to touch any retirement funds until we retire). I guess now she's going to buy all new furniture and probably have the driveway re-paved.... Sorry, that's hyperbole and frustration, not actual plans. At least she hasn't mentioned all new furniture (yet?).

Anyway, all the work to get us out of debt is being thrown away. I let her get the car loan in a compromise, and now she's continuing - no accelerating - the spending without any more compromise.

To top it off, she's even asking to decrease the amount we had agreed to pay toward the mortgage in the "great car compromise." For that one, I told her a flat-out "No, we're going to pay the amount we agreed to." I even "threatened" to pay the note from here rather than transferring the monies to her account which has all the autopays. She agreed to keep that compromise, but I think that she just wants to make those Jones next door envious.

End rant

Now that I have that out of my system...

There's nothing she's doing that we hadn't planned to do over time, but she wants to do it all right now. The problem is that she's putting us back into debt and also killed our EF at the same time to do it.

Does anyone have any advice for me when I talk to her next time? I swear, this feels like she's an alcoholic who skipped out on an AA meeting to go to a bar.

Quote I Disagree With

July 22nd, 2013 at 02:15 am

You know the quotes that come up on top of the page on SA. Well, there is one that comes up periodically:

"Enjoy your job, make lots of money, work within the law. Choose any two."

I completely disagree! I have thoroughly enjoyed two of my last three jobs (spanning over 10 years) and made very good money. Of course, I don't violate any laws.

This quote is flawed on the surface. Dave Ramsey (sorry to bring up his name again, after the forum wars that I'm currently engaged in) doesn't seem to even be working. He's definitely enjoying his job, making a lot more than lots of money, and not violating the law.

There are many folks who do all three. What about you? Do you enjoy your job? Do you break the law? You may not be making "lots of money," but you're probably doing well enough and most likely making more than many of your peers.

Sorry to vent. It's just been bugging me, and I finally caught it when it came up in the banner.

Stewlash and E-Trade

July 21st, 2013 at 12:47 am

I finally got around to transferring some funds from an E-Trade account set up by a previous employer. The money has been sitting dormant for about a year. I really should have done it sooner. I've lost out on about 20% gains by not doing so. Oh, well. It wasn't a whole lot of money, but it was still money lost through laziness.

On the Dubai homefront, I made stew yesterday. Then I added a lot of vegetables and a can of tomato sauce, so it is now a stew-goulash crossbreed, which I have coined as "stewlash." It was really good, but as always I used too much black pepper, so it has a bit of a bite.

I ate about a third of it, and put the other two thirds up in the freezer for lunches over the next month or so. I'll make chili sometime this week after I finish cleaning the crock pot. I always soak the ceramic liner for a day before I hand clean it, both of which precede me putting it into the dishwasher. I hate crusty remains from bad dishwashers, and there's no such thing as a good dishwasher in my experience.

DW is getting the house in order. Houston has been getting a lot of rain, so the lawn is coming in nicely where we had to mend the DD2's destructive "improvements." We have mushrooms now, which is not bad, but I asked DW to put down some Daconil (a fungicide) to help prevent future brown patch. I also told her I have Banner (another fungicide) in the shed, and for her to be ready to put it down in a couple of weeks if brown patch encroaches regardless of the Daconil treatment.

While I was doing the E-Trade move, I looked at my Vanguard holdings. They're up about 20% for the year. I know that will dip when QE stops, but it sure is nice to look at it now. I only wish I knew when the dip was coming. Yeah... I know: "Market timing." But you know the dip is coming, as it is unavoidable mathematically.

Porcine Lipstick and Reality

July 14th, 2013 at 07:17 pm

I just got off the phone with DW. She's met with our financial advisor, and of course sent me forms to sign and instructions to follow. She said it might rain today, so we'll save a few dollars on watering the new sod we put in.

DD2 and SIL2 have started the structural changes in their new house, and found that one of the walls she wants to pull down contains the risers for the plumbing upstairs. She's bummed, but they're going to do an archway with support beams (rather than just a stand-alone column to conceal the plumbing) instead of only the breakfast bar with no verticals. I'm sure it will look fine.

The Bank of Mom and Pop has extended the credit line to DD2 and SIL2 to accommodate a new fence. SIL2 had great plans to put in a new fence by himself, but I'm not surprised he's not doing this one. I've done fences before, and even using a two-man auger, postholes are a pain in the butt to put in. He's not all that mechanically inclined, so they got a bid for others to do the fence. The old one is already torn down and the new one should be going in as I type.

DW asked why parts of our house are cold and other parts are not-so-cold. I told her it's because it is an old house, and DD2 doesn't run the ceiling fans, closes all the doors, and blocks all the air flow from the registers back to the inlets. I told her to just leave the doors open and all the ceiling fans running and that things would moderate. DD2 cannot be told anything that doesn't agree with her preconceived notions. She thinks that air conditioning should work according to her desires and not according to physics. I can't wait until she starts seeing the results of her ideas in her new place. Remember that I've done thousands of dollars in energy updates in my 1950's bungalow. She refused to do the updates in her 1970's Brady Bunch place.

The puppies are loving the yard, still. I, on the other hand, mopped the floors this evening. I miss the vacuum cleaner aspect of those two.

Credit Score update

July 13th, 2013 at 08:50 pm

I was going to go to bed, but I checked my credit score on Credit Karma just now. In my April 20th post about credit scores, I said that DW had a credit score approaching "deity," while mine was close to 100 points lower than hers. Her score was so high, I'd think that folks would PAY her to borrow from them.

When we went to the US, we got a new car for her. This put two new inquiries onto my account; that should've been just one, but I'm not worried about the inquiries. Inquiries are "negative" in effect on credit ratings. We also borrowed a healthy amount, increasing our debt-to-income ratio, which is another "negative."

So, what was the result of adding two negatives to my credit record? The score went up to nearly DW's level after nearly six months of just sitting where it had been.

As I said in the comments to the April post: I just don't understand credit scores or how they work.

Back in Dubai

July 13th, 2013 at 04:56 pm

Well, the hectic trip was "hecticker" than I imagined it would be. We made it to DS's wedding and met his bride's family. They seem to be really nice folks. Almost all of the older men at the wedding were US military veterans, from both sides of the family.

My parents were not able to make it to the wedding. I was warned that my mother has symptoms of dementia, but when we flew to VA to see them, I found out the brutal truth of the situation. My mom remembered me, but she kept asking my wife who she is. It is really quite sad, but my father is coping with it well. Luckily, they are well-set financially for their retirement, so his only worries are taking care of my mom.

DD2 and her hubby (SIL2) have closed on their house. They haven't moved in yet as they are having a lot of work done before they move in. They are replacing all of the floors and painting. I suggested they replace the windows and put in more attic insulation, but instead they are doing the cosmetic changes.

I helped SIL2 put in some purlins in the attic (like there would be purlins anywhere else). I left my nailer and compressor at his place and showed him how to determine if a wall is load-bearing. I also showed him how to brace back to a load-bearing wall for the additional purlins he's going to have to put in. DW is working with DD2 this weekend to help her paint the inside.

Their contractor has finally given them prices for some of the interior changes. His prices are in line with the amount of work to be done. In addition to our house-warming gift of $2K, we're making them a substantial "Bank of mom and pop" loan as well. We're making them sign some papers, but that's more so that everyone knows the terms than for any legal purpose. I seriously doubt that we'll do any legal action if they don't pay us back. Of course, I'm sure they will pay us back, else I wouldn't have approved of the loan.

I spent the remainder of my time doing repairs on the house DW will be staying in. She insisted on a new Tahoe, and I made her get the LTZ model. If you're going to have a new car, you might as well get a good one. We financed it with our CU, who offered 1.49%, but after negotiating the deal, the dealership asked what our interest rate was. He said he could beat it, and therefore our rate is actually at 1.19% through Capital One. That's not a bad rate, in my book. DW should have it paid off in about 1.5 years by the amortization schedule we worked out.

Homes in my neighborhood have fully rebounded from the "soft" hit they took during the downturn. Empty lots are going for exorbitant levels. The house beside ours is listed for $1250 per month as a lease, and it is significantly smaller and less well-kept than ours. Rental estimates for our place are about $2K. I have considered selling it, but every time I look at its value, it has gone up yet again. Right now, it has increased by over $60K in less than a year. Although those are unrealized gains, there's no way I'm going to sell until that pace of increase abates.

So, now we have a car payment again. I can't say I'm happy about that, but at least DW has a safe car to drive in. This trip also put our house payoff schedule back a few months. It looks like we won't have it fully paid off until the first quarter of 2014 now. Oh, well, the best laid schemes of mice and men oft go awry, as the Burns poem states.

I'll be back at work in the morning, and have already received about 10 phone calls about minor issues that needed my input. I guess I'll need to get back into office-work mode this evening. I won't be taking any more time off for at least 6 months.

Ramadan started this month. "Ramdan Kareem!" to those of you who follow the tenets of Islam.

Trip back the US around the Corner

May 27th, 2013 at 01:16 am

Well, DW and I are getting ready to head back to DS's wedding. We're going to do quite a few around-the-US trips as well. We got our airplane tickets and car rentals already arranged and paid for. Total out of pocket for two cities and about ten days is just at $700. That includes rental car, hotels, and plane. I used up some of my frequent flyer and frequent stayer credits for this, which made the price less than 30% of the fares and fees otherwise.

Our dogs go to the vet next week for their "preflight" check up. That should be all in order.

I have hired three people at work this week, and still have two more contracts to sort out. We're growing by the proverbial "leaps and bounds." My group has tripled in size since I arrived, and it looks like we're going to double again this year. That will be literally a 6 times increase in just two years. It's hectic, let me tell you.

DD2 has purchased a house. DW and I are going to give her $2K toward new floors. We're also helping DS pay for his wedding. June is going to be a "thin" month for us.

DW and I have worked out a compromise. She is going to get her new car. She's also going to live at our "old" house, at least until the car is paid off. We're going to use "her" money to go toward the car, then use "our" money to cover the remaining payments. Had we had more notice, we would have saved up for her car, but we're moving up her return to the US by six months due to circumstances beyond our control.

We also have to budget for her return trips to Dubai. I'll be staying on in our apartment over here. I've hired a "number two" in my group, and will be leaving him in charge when we return to the US. It isn't fair doing this right before we return, but he knew the score when we made the job offer. I'm really happy to have hired both him and our new operations supervisor. They wanted large salaries, but they're both worth it, in my opinion. Only time will prove out my beliefs.

Things are looking to be pretty good for June. I should know my bonus amount this week. I hope it is large enough to offset some of our upcoming expenses. It should be, but one never knows until the figures are written down and certified.

Financial Decisions

May 13th, 2013 at 05:54 am

DW is planning to split her time between the US and Dubai. The summers here are oppressively hot, and she just doesn't want to suffer through another one. I, on the other hand, actually like the hot weather, and as I'm the one working, there's no real way I can go back to the US and work here part time.

Because of this, we'll need both a car and a house in the US. For some reason, DW doesn't want to live in the house we already own, and have nearly paid off. She wants a larger place for only her and our dogs. Her car is being used by DD2 and SIL, and DW doesn't want to ask for it back. I'm not even going to discuss my opinion of that. I gave my car to BIL (DW's brother) when we left to come here to Dubai, because there was no way I could sell it for what it was worth, and BIL needed it more than we did. No regrets on that front.

So, it looks like we'll need to buy both a house and a car upon our return for DS's wedding. I have DW convinced to buy the house first, at least, but because of that, we won't have the cash to buy her new car outright. I hope she will come around and let me get her a gently used car for $20K or so until we can save up enough for the car she wants (list price around $55K). If not, we'll end up with car payments and we'll have to beat those down while simultaneously attacking the last of house(1) mortgage and new house mortgage. At least we have no other debts to worry about. House(1) is nearly paid off. If it weren't for the need for the down payment for new house, we could pay it off completely.

So, DW is putting a crimp into our retirement plans. The only point we're in full agreement on is that we aren't touching any of the retirement accounts for this, and we'll still fully fund both Roths. She wants a place with a large fenced yard and a pool. We also want the place to be energy efficient, well-made... all the "normal" house desires. She also wants "close in to town," and "new construction." We're talking five times my annual salary to get everything she wants, and that's just not going to happen. She also doesn't want to work, which I don't mind. But she's going to have to "give" on at least a couple points or it's just not going to happen.

I should find out my bonus amount this month. That's going to decide a lot of what we're going to be able to do right away, and what we're going to have to put off until later. I'm hoping for a very large bonus.

Credit Scores

April 20th, 2013 at 11:06 am

DW and I were looking at our credit scores on Credit Karma or Credit Sesame (no way I'm paying for curiosity information). Her score is up to "deity" level. Mine is still somewhat below "hero," probably in the "champion" range.

Basically, her score shot up by about 35 points to the "nowhere to go but down" range. Mine is still "very good," but there's a lot of both up and down potential. When we look at the basis behind the scores, we both score A in every category.

I'll never understand credit scores. Our credit has been married for over 6 years. Anything bad on mine from before should have fallen off.

Good thing we pretty much ignore these things. There's something about walking into a car dealership and saying, "We don't care about payments. All discussions will be referencing bottom-line, drive-out , we're-done-forever pricing. If you send me into the room with the lady who wants to sell me undercoating, pin striping, and extended warranties, I'll say 'yes' to everything she asks. Just be aware, though, that the number you and I come up with is the final answer, so you won't get another penny above that, no matter what you throw in for free."

We're currently saving to purchase our retirement home outright. I doubt I'll need a mortgage broker, and the title company will be someone I hire, not one hired by the bank or some other entity. I guess I've learned that doing things yourself saves money.

Still wish I knew why my credit score isn't moving at all. We pay our present mortgage on time every month.

No spend week

April 10th, 2013 at 02:42 am

Not that it took any real effort. I was in Saudi Arabia for 8 days. The day before I left, we put aside some food for DW, who never really makes much when I'm not home. This also meant no weekend date, either.

Of course, when I got back, I had gotten a rash on my wrists. Overnight, it spread to my arms, back, legs... basically everywhere but my face. That meant a trip to the doctor. The diagnosis is "contact dermatitis," which basically means I touched something that gave me a rash. I have no idea what I had touched.

Anyway, I now have four different pills and two tubes of cream I have to use. The cost? About a $15 co-pay, which I'm definitely not complaining about. I took all my pills and had a small snack for breakfast - I usually skip morning meals - but I'm not allowed coca-cola at all! I was down to about two cans per day (that's like a radical cutback, for me), but now I'm allowed nothing. We'll be shopping for that fruit-flavored water today sometime. At least "alcohol" was not denied me by the doctor, so I can still drink beer!

Going back to work today for a two-day workweek. Of course, not having had a day off for two previous weeks means that this isn't much of a bargain at all.

Easter and Passover

March 31st, 2013 at 04:16 am

If you think religion is a fairy tale of imaginary sky friends, you should probably skip this post.

No matter one's religion, I think this time of year is ideal for a "Springtime Thanksgiving." Whether you believe G-d passed over the true believers in preparation for their deliverance from Pharaoh or that Christ was risen and cleansed us of our sins, I think this particular time of year is a good time to assess where you are in your life and give thanks where they are deserved.

I'm truly blessed by a loving family, good health, a good job, and a good life. Thanks, God. I couldn't have done anything without Your help. I'm doing "better than I deserve."

If you're interested in languages, you might find it interesting that Pasqua (Italian for Easter) and Pesach (Hebrew name for Passover) are derived from the same root. Yet the two words commemorate totally different events, unless you want to speculate that deliverance from Pharaoh and deliverance from sin are somehow the same lesson in different forms.

If only Burt Reynolds hadn't done that movie, we might be able to have a common holiday called "Deliverance."

Cue the Banjo music.

Money, Debt, and Credit

March 23rd, 2013 at 03:49 am

CreditCardFree posted an article about her friend spending her tax return on unnecessary items.



http://creditcardfree.savingadvice.com/2013/03/22/backwards-...

This got me thinking about how I used to view things. I started to reply in the comments, but my "reply" turned in to a longer post than CCF's original musings. That, in turn, spawned this post.

In the US, and probably much of the developed world, "available credit" has become synonymous with "money." Think about how you were before you devoted yourself to paying down your debt: As long as you were still below your credit limit, you could afford to buy something.

Did you not think "I still have room left on my credit card, so I can afford this?"

From this revelation, I realized that "available credit" has become conflated with "money." If you thought that the two were the same thing, then there would be absolutely no reason to pay off debt with your tax return. Follow the reasoning in the next paragraph.

I have a $3000 tax return. I have a $12000 balance due on my $20000-limit credit card. Therefore, I have spending power of $11K. If I pay off my debt with my tax return, I have $0 in cash, and $9K due on my $20K balance. Therefore, I have "spent" my tax return for no gains in my ability to buy things. Therefore, I have "wasted" my tax return for nothing.

How many of you had thought processes similar to the preceding paragraph? You may not have thought it through quite so logically (self-anointed nerd, here), but does it not encapsulate how you actually thought about money and credit? They're the same thing in the minds of those who have not had the epiphany that "debt is bad" that most of us writing in the blogs on SA have had.

And this is why most folks don't understand us, and most folks are not paying off debt, and why most folks are going to panic again when the next downturn happens.

Money does not equal available credit. If you realize the wisdom in referring to them as "debt cards" instead of "credit cards," then you understand why we're paying off our debts. Maybe we should all start calling them "debt cards" instead of "credit cards" when we talk to others. Maybe we can start a trend that has a positive effect.

More likely, though, we'll get talked about behind our backs for not knowing the "right" words for those plastic swipe things.

Home Improvements and Spreadsheets

March 22nd, 2013 at 09:06 am

I'm a spreadsheet nerd. When I make an important financial decision, the first thing I do is break out Excel and start to do comparisons and "what-if" checks.

My house in the US is up another $20K in value in the last two months by the online estimators and my own research into the neighborhood sales online confirms these figures. Also, its apparent rental value is up $200 per month. I already had a spreadsheet for the "sell or rent, which is better" scenario, and put the new numbers in it. As usual, when all factors are considered, there is only a $50 per month differential between renting out the place and selling it and investing the profits. I use a conservative 7% for my investment return calculations.

I opened a new sheet in the workbook and listed my electric, gas, and water usage from figures I could find online in my accounts. I've been making energy efficiency improvements to the house nearly every year since purchasing it. Honestly, I have pretty much run out of improvements to make. The house is in Houston, TX. I've added ridge and soffit vents. I've added a radiant barrier. I've upped the ceiling insulation to absurd depths. I've put in wall insulation as the bungalow was built around 1950 and no one used insulation back then. I have high efficiency everything including washer, refrigerator, air conditioner. I have double-pane, e-squared, argon-filled windows. I have one sliding glass door left to replace with some French doors, and my upgrades will be complete.

As I said, this was all done over a course of years. I finally got around to working out my total energy and utility usage for the place. I had paid as much as $400 for only the electric bill one month, though usually the electricity ran closer to $300 or slightly below during the summer months.

My spreadsheet did not disappoint me. My maximum TOTAL utility bill for the last two years was right at $170. That was only one month during the drought where my water usage was over $100. I told DW while we were doing the watering that "it's cheaper to water than it is to put in a new lawn."

My electricity provider went out of business, so I lost previous billing data, and cannot go back any further. The house is costing about $110 per month for total utilities: gas, electric and water. That's $200 per month right into my pocket when I move back. Right now, DD2 is enjoying this bounty with her husband as they house-sit while I'm overseas.

Since I started doing the upgrades, I have probably invested just about $30K in the changes. That means it is a 9 year payback at 7% per annum. I'm a good five years into the payback period.

Those improvements are as good as money in the bank, in a few more years.

Free eBook for One Week

March 18th, 2013 at 10:59 pm

I posted in the freebies section, but more people probably read here, so I'm double-posting this.



The DaVinci Code, by Dan Brown, is being offered free by the publisher to promote Dan Brown's newest book. If you have any kind of eReader (I use Kindle on my iPad and iPhone), then you can get it free from your favorite publisher.

I got my copy from Amazon. I had to go down the list to find the $0.00 Kindle edition, but it was there. I would assume GoogleBooks, iTunes, Barnes&Noble also have free editions, according to the press reports.

The offer ends on 24 March, so if you want a free copy of the DaVinci Code, now is your chance.

Ouch!

March 17th, 2013 at 09:00 pm

I went to the doctor today. About 10 days ago, I went and found out I have bone spurs and plantar fascitis in both feet. Ten days of pills and creams basically did nothing for the early-morning pain.

The doctor gave me steroid shots, one in each heel. Now you know the reason for the title. Steroid shots directly into your heel are the reason curse words were invented. I didn't do any more than scream, but I can assure you I was THINKING curse words as I did so.

So now, 12 hours later, I'm sitting up in the middle of the night in intense pain. The nausea and general body aches I got after the shots were bad enough. I cannot even walk now. When I say pain, I'm mean so bad I cannot even comfortably move from the couch.

This had better work. The doctor said that in extreme cases, three shots would be required, each 10 days apart. This had better work!

Take That, Washington!

March 16th, 2013 at 03:34 am

Well, at least this year living in Dubai worked out. I just finished my taxes, and I owe a whopping ZERO dollars.

Plus, I'm getting a refund. I usually don't take my refund, and leave it in for next year's taxes, so this year, the tax package I used didn't give me that option hence the fact my last year's "leave it in" option is now this year's "get it back" requirement.

I realize that leaving my "refund" with the IRS means the government gets my money tax-free, but they need it worse than I do, and I prefer to have a bit more buffer at tax time than most people. Besides, it's their money anyway. Just ask them.

Next year, I'm going to have to pay quite a bit in quarterly payments, which is a bit daunting for me. The way my pay is structured worked out for me this year. Next year (2013 taxes) is going to hit very hard. I hope they don't make too many changes at the last minute (sequester and end-of-year changes like 2012, anyone?) since the quarterly estimates are going to be hard enough to figure out without last minute changes.

There goes the Budget!

March 14th, 2013 at 08:27 pm

I got a call from DS a few days ago. He has decided to marry his (now) fiancee. They've been dating about three years. She graduates in May. They're getting married in June. At least they waited until after college to get married. DS has been out of Uni about three years, so he's just now hitting his stride on earning potential.



The problem is that we had not planned to come back to the US until July or August. Two months isn't a lot of time to change our plans, and we have promised to "help out" on the wedding. How much we help will probably depend a lot on how well DS is doing with his income. If he's making wise choices, we'll help more. If he's not making wise choices, we'll help less. We really can't make that decision from a distance.

DW and I are thinking of giving the new couple a gift of enrollment in Dave Ramsey's class. I don't really agree with 100% of DR's teachings, but you can't argue with success. I am about 99% sure DS has put himself in over his head in debt, due in large part to my past performance which he witnessed. It's never too early for him to start to think about retirement. There's no way to plan for retirement while "improving" your credit score.

Anyway, this is only a bump in the mortgage-pay-off road. If we get my bonus on time, then we should be able to overcome any difficulties that this wedding will cause with our budget. If we don't get the bonus on time (you'd have to know our CFO to understand why this is a possibility), then the timing of the wedding will hurt. DW and I have decided to slow down the mortgage pay off and concentrate on vacation/wedding savings instead.

I am certainly blessed to be saddled with the "good" problems I'm now facing. Of course, I've worked for over 30 years to get this overnight success. God's been smiling at me recently, and I'm really thankful for His help. (I apologize to those of you that might find this last statement offensive; however, I am obliged to acknowledge Him in my current situation.)


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