Financial Careers: Credit Analysis

Photo: 5mal5

A career in credit analysis focuses on assessing the creditworthiness of individual or institutional loan applicants through quantitative analysis of their financial data. Credit analysts work for a wide variety of companies, from commercial banks and credit-rating agencies to retail operations and investment banks.

Obtaining a professional certification provides an additional level of expertise to professionals working in credit analysis and can help them distinguish themselves, improve their job prospects and increase their pay.

To learn about five professional certifications available to individuals pursuing a career in credit analysis, read my Investopedia article, Getting Accredited For A Career In Credit Analysis.

The Most Expensive Places to Buy a Home

Have you ever wondered which cities would cost the most to own a home in? I've examined the National Association of Realtors (NAR) report for the five most expensive metropolitan areas to buy a home as of the first quarter of 2011 and described some of the factors that drive real estate prices in those areas. To find out where they are, read The 5 Most Expensive Places to Buy a Home at Investopedia.

An Interesting Refinance Offer from Quicken Loans

Photo: Images of Money

Quicken Loans has an interesting offer for people who are afraid to pull the trigger on refinancing because they don't want to miss out on getting the lowest possible interest rate. I haven't seen an offer like this from any other lender. If you're intrigued, read my Interest.com article, Quicken Loans Offers Mortgage Rate Promise.

Managing Unexpected Home Repair Costs

Photo: Sidharth D.

We recently had a bee situation at our house. For no apparent reason, a swarm of bees decided to move into a space maybe six inches wide between the roof of our house and the roof of our shed. The shed appears to have been a DIY project constructed by a previous owner, who probably never thought that space would pose a problem. Neither did we--in fact, we'd never noticed it until the bees came. It got so bad that my husband got stung and I was afraid to go into the backyard and become the next victim.

We have an ongoing contract with a pest control company, so we were hoping they might take care of the problem for free, but no such luck. They said that bee removal costs started at $250. We were horrified.

Being the frugal gal I am, I of course researched our options for killing the bees ourselves, but the risk of getting stung appeared to be high while the odds of curing the problem appeared to be low. We were going to have to hire professional help. Meanwhile, the problem was starting to seem more urgent based on horror stories I stumbled across online about bees moving into the walls of people's homes and leaving honeycomb that could only be removed by destroying the wall. I really didn't want a bee nuisance to turn into a construction project.

After calling three more bee professionals, we found the lowest price--$175--and hired them. It wasn't fun writing that check, but it was a relief to get rid of the bees. The company provided great service--they were at our house within a couple of hours. So far, the bees haven't come back.

Our experience dealing with this situation inspired me to write an article. Visit Interest.com to read my tips on Managing Unexpected Home Repair Costs.

Why You Can't Afford Not To Have A Car

Photo credit: Aude

You've probably read that if you're worried about money, you shouldn't own a car. Cars are expensive to purchase and have ongoing costs such as gasoline, maintenance, repairs and insurance. It's easy to spend several hundred dollars each month for the luxury of owning a car, and if money is tight, that several hundred dollars might be better spent elsewhere. What we often overlook are the ways that owning a vehicle can actually benefit us financially. To read about the ways that owning a car might actually allow you to come out ahead, check out my Financial Edge article, Why You Can't Afford Not To Have A Car.

Most Affordable Cities

Cinderalla Bridge, Youngstown, OH
Photo courtesy Twelsht

What are the most affordable cities to live in? The answer depends on how you define "affordable" and how you define "city." For example, a city can be defined by its formal boundaries or by the broader metropolitan statistical area that the U.S. Census Bureau considers it to be a part of. Take a look at some of the places in the United States where your money will go the furthest in my latest Financial Edge article for Investopedia, The Most Affordable Cities to Live In.

City vs. Suburbs--Where Should You Live?

Photo by E. Kvelland

Have you reached a point where you have to make a conscious choice between living in the suburbs and living in the city?

If you grew up in one or the other, you probably have strong feelings about that experience: the suburbs were boring—there was nothing to do there but hang out at the mall; the city was full of interesting restaurants and cultural events, but it was so far away. Or maybe the city felt dangerous, dirty and crowded and you longed for feelings of safety and open space. Whatever our feelings, we probably didn’t have any say in where we lived. As adults, we can choose, but we also have different wants and needs that can lead to surprising choices.

While both have their pros and cons, the ideal situation will depend on your personality. Factors such as commute; job and educational opportunities; house size, lot size, and privacy; housing age; social life and cultural amenities; local government; and overall quality of life will affect your decision. For some considerations that might help you make a decision, read my Financial Edge article for Investopedia, Choosing Between the Suburbs and the City.

Should You Ever Pay an Annual Fee for a Credit Card?

Most of the time, we financial writers recommend that consumers not hold credit cards that charge an annual fee. There are so many cards that don't charge an annual fee that it just seems ridiculous to pay one. Also, many cards that charge an annual fee don't provide any added benefits or features.

However, there are times when it can make sense to get a credit card that charges an annual fee. If the card's benefits outweigh the annual fee, the card is worth a second look.

To learn more about specific cards that charge an annual fee but offer significant perks, read my latest Financial Edge article for Investopedia, Credit Cards: Should You Ever Pay An Annual Fee? The article also discusses specific situations that can make it worthwhile to pay an annual fee.

Photo: Wikimedia Commons

8 Considerations For Using Your Credit Card Abroad

Photo by malias

Are you planning to travel abroad this summer? Which credit card you take with you on your next international trip could have a big impact on the final cost of your journey and on how smoothly your trip goes. To learn about the terms and features you should look for when choosing the right credit card for travel outside the United States, read my latest Financial Edge article for Investopedia: 8 Considerations For Using Your Credit Card Abroad.

For more travel tips, check out my previous posts:

15 Things that Make Flying Coach Bearable

Free Engagement/Wedding Ring Cleanings and Inspections

Photo by GrrLash

When I went engagement ring shopping, one of the supposed perks that every jewelry store seemed to offer was that I could bring my ring in for free cleanings and inspections.

I ended up getting my ring from a jeweler that was going out of business, so I thought that an added expense of my ring was going to be paying to have it professionally cleaned (to keep it sparkly) and inspected (to make sure none of the prongs have loosened) the recommended two times per year. I wasn't thrilled about this prospect, but it seemed like an acceptable compromise to get a ring I wanted at a price that wasn't completely absurd. (See my related post, How to Get a Good Deal on an Engagement Ring.)

When it came time to get my ring cleaned, I decided to take it to a jeweler that had very good reviews online. It turns out that they will clean and inspect my ring for free anytime I want. How great is that?

It's also a smart business strategy--not only has this store earned my goodwill and made themselves the first place I will turn to if I ever want to buy another piece of fine jewelry or have any kind of jewelry repair work done, they also get me and other customers to visit their store and potentially look at their merchandise on a regular basis.

If you're shopping for an engagement ring, don't let the promise of free cleanings and inspections be a deciding factor in which jeweler to make your purchase from--you can probably find this service from another jeweler for free.

Extreme Couponing: Are the Savings Worth It? Part 2 of 2

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I do use coupons sometimes, but I am definitely not an extreme couponer. I spend an hour a week at most clipping and printing coupons--time that I'm not always convinced is well spent. I don't make enormous bulk purchases because I'm kind of a minimalist. I just don't like having more than a few extras of something taking up space in my house. Also, I only have one small fridge/freezer, and that limits how much perishable stuff I can buy at once.

Extreme couponers seem to experience a real high from their coupon deals. They also seem to experience a great deal of stress in the checkout line. I can relate to both of these feelings. But to be honest, my overall feeling is that I would rather shop somewhere with groceries that are reasonably priced every day, where I don't need to use coupons to make my grocery budget work. This saves me time and allows me to buy what I want instead of what I have a coupon for.

When I go grocery shopping at Target, I can grab pretty much anything and be assured that while I may not be getting the best deal ever, I am not getting ripped off and I am not going to blow my budget. In contrast, all of the big chain grocery stores in my area inflate their prices so much that I would be crazy to do my shopping there without first arming myself with a store loyalty card and an envelope full of coupons. I don't like shopping at these stores because it really does feel like I am fighting a battle against the store for my money. The way their registers ring items up makes it extremely difficult to tell whether items are scanning for the correct price, so I have to scrutinize my receipt before I leave the store. It's all very stressful.

Another reason I don't enjoy couponing is that for me, time is literally money because I am self-employed. I realize that for homemakers and for people with regular jobs, this isn't the case, so saving tons of money with extreme couponing techniques is kind of like becoming self-employed or taking a second job and turning idle time into money. But for me, I have to think about whether my time is better spent clipping coupons or writing a blog post, clipping coupons or pitching an article idea, clipping coupons or giving myself a break so I will be well-rested enough to do my best work later. I also find that when I shop with coupons, I spend much more time in the store, so that's another time cost that I have to factor in. I also don't care much for shopping and find it irritating to spend a lot of time at the store, so for me, there is also a psychological cost to using coupons.

Though I have never been an extreme couponer, there have been times in the past when I used coupons much more heavily than I do now. These days, I usually limit myself to coupons for five items. Whatever coupons offer the best deals for things I actually want or need to buy are the coupons I use. I no longer go to multiple stores, spend two hours hunting around one store for coupon items, or drag my husband to the store with me to try to maximize my deals. I don't make special trips to the store to use coupons that are about to expire, I don't spend hours planning out my shopping trips, and I only clip coupons during idle time, such as while I'm heating up food in the microwave. I am much more aware of the need to balance saving money with saving time and saving my sanity.

Like fellow financial writer Katherine Preston, I don't think that extreme couponing is a viable option for most people. I think that being aware of the different techniques for saving money on groceries and household items is wise, but extreme couponing is not a one-size-fits-all activity. There are many paths to saving money on groceries, and everyone should use the money-saving shopping techniques that work best for them.

Double Your Money with the Rule of 72

With the preponderance of financial calculators available on the Internet, it hardly seems necessary to learn how to do any investment calculations yourself.

But there's one calculation that's easy to understand and use on your own: the rule of 72. It can help you determine which financial instruments to choose to meet your investing goals. It can also help you calculate the effects of inflation on prices or your nest egg.

Read my Investopedia article, How To Double Your Money Every Six Years, to learn what the rule of 72 is and how to use it to perform calculations like these.

How Credit Cards Can Make You Money (and I'm Not Talking about 1% Cash Back)

I started reading a blog called My Money Blog about five years ago. I don't remember how I came across it, but it's one of the most popular personal finance blogs on the Internet, and with good reason. The deals and advice provided by author Jonathan have helped me earn thousands of dollars that I might not have otherwise, kept me up-to-date with trends in online banking, and caused me to rethink some of my investments. If there is a good deal to be had or an important investing decision to be made, I know that Jonathan will post about it. I don't need to look anywhere else.

One of the best things I've learned from Jonathan is the subject of my latest Financial Edge article for Investopedia: Cash In On Credit Card Signup Bonuses.

If you could easily make several hundred extra dollars a year with minimal effort, would you do it? Most people would say yes, but when you tell them that the way to do it is by opening new credit card accounts, they get nervous. They're afraid that the new accounts will damage their credit scores or that there's some kind of catch.

The truth is that it's easy to make money from credit card sign-up bonuses, and there isn't a catch as long as you pay your bill in full and on time and look out for annual fees. Read the full article and get my tips for understanding and making the most of these offers here: Cash In On Credit Card Sign-Up Bonuses.

Whenever I try to explain this tactic to my friends or family members, they seem to dismiss it offhand as a bad idea. Maybe this article will change some of their minds, or at least allow them to understand where I'm coming from. More importantly, I hope it will inspire more people to take advantage of the great offers that are out there.