Monday, July 19, 2010

personal finances help


Thursday, June 17, 2010



by digby

It doesn't get any better than this:

Daily Kos reports:

According to Barton, asking BP to set up an escrow account to compensate victims of BP's disaster was a criminal action -- a "shakedown" as he put it. Barton's not alone: his comments echo those made by other Republicans in recent days, including Michele Bachmann, Haley Barbour, and Tom Price.

Update 1 -- GOP Rep. Marcia Blackburn continues the "give BP a break" theme from the Republican Party, saying "the current administration deserves a significant portion of the blame for the oil spill." I guess BP would have loved an apology from her, but at least she told them that it really wasn't all their fault.

Update 2 -- GOP Rep. Phil Gingrey continues the "attack Obama, not BP" message from Republicans, saying he's looking forward to testimony from the administration. You could feel the GOP love from Hayward, pleased that yet another Republican was taking heat off his company.

Joe Barton knows a little bit about shakedowns. After all he's taken many millions in campaign cash from the oil industry. But he doesn't stop at just campaign money:
Wednesday, February 3, 2010 By DAVE MICHAELS / The Dallas Morning News

WASHINGTON – Rep. Joe Barton has earned nearly $100,000 from an interest in natural gas wells that he purchased from a longtime campaign donor who also advised the congressman on energy policy, according to interviews and records.

At a hearing last month of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Barton said he was "a small, small partner in a natural gas well in Johnson County in the Barnett Shale that is probably my 4-year-old son's college education." He later told a reporter that he couldn't remember precisely how he obtained the interest.

Land records show that Barton, R-Arlington, purchased his interest from Walter G. Mize, a Cleburne businessman who donated more than $30,000 to Barton's campaigns.

Mize urged Barton to create a federal oil and gas research program that was included in a 2005 energy law. Barton's ties to Mize, who died in 2008, go back 20 years, according to friends of both men.

Barton's interest could become controversial at a time when Congress is considering sweeping energy legislation that would boost demand for natural gas. Congressional experts say such deals raise ethical questions for lawmakers, who are expected by the public to maintain a firewall between their personal finances and official duties.

"If you are elected as a public servant to try to do what is right for the public generally and then you use that position to help bring in material wealth, I think it's unethical," said James Thurber, a distinguished professor of government at American University.

Yeah, I would guess most people agree with that.



In 2006, recent Harvard grad Alexa von Tobel was headed for a job at Morgan Stanley. But though she would soon be managing the bank’s investments, she realized she didn’t know the first thing about her own finances. Most financial guides seemed to be written for middle-aged readers with millions in assets, rather than recent college grads. "I was reading every book I could find, but none of them spoke to me," she says. So she came up with the idea for LearnVest, an online personal-finance resource for young women like her, and ended up writing an 80-page business plan.

After two years at Morgan Stanley, von Tobel entered Harvard Business School in 2008. But upon winning a business plan competition held by Astia, a non-profit that supports women entrepreneurs, she took a five-year leave of absence and invested $75,000 of her Wall Street earnings to start LearnVest in November. She quickly enlisted advisors, including Betsy Morgan, the former CEO of the Huffington Post, and Catherine Levene, the former COO of DailyCandy, to help develop the site’s content and technology. In January 2009, she secured $1.1 million in seed funding from executives at Goldman Sachs.

LearnVest’s site launched a year later and has since signed up more than 100,000 members. It offers online budgeting calculators, video chats with certified financial planners on the company’s staff, and free e-mail tutorials on topics such as opening an IRA. The company earns revenue from advertising and by referring its users to companies such as TD Ameritrade. In April, after just four weeks of fundraising, von Tobel closed a $4.5 million investment round led by Accel Partners, which has also invested in Facebook and Etsy. (Incidentally, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg lived in the same dorm as von Tobel at Harvard.)

Von Tobel likens LearnVest to an online version of The Suze Orman Show, but with the goal of reinforcing positive finance habits early on. “Suze Orman helps 45-year-old women get out of debt,” she says. “Why not reach 20-year-olds to keep them from getting into debt?”

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Great! You've made the decision to purchase a personal financial software package to track your finances. But, before you go to your local office supply store to buy one, there are some decisions that you need to make regarding what you want the program to do for you. The more planning you do up front, the more money and aggravation you will save yourself. Know the answers to the following questions:

1) Do I need to track revenues and expenses for a home-based or larger business? If you have a home-based business, some of the more common personal financial software programs can help you keep your business finances separate from your personal finances. However, if you have a larger business, you may want to consider one of the business financial software packages, like QuickBooks, MYOB, or Simply Accounting. These programs are designed specifically for businesses and can save time versus trying to adapt your personal financial software to meet your business needs.

2) Do I need to track my net worth or simply my inflows and outflows of cash? For some, it will be enough to simply be able to categorize the money going into the bank accounts and the money coming out. Eventually, though, in order to build wealth, you will need to know how much your assets exceed your liabilities by- the standard definition of net worth.

3) Do I need to know the current value of my investment portfolio? If your investments are placed with several different investment companies, it can be helpful to centralize your total portfolio in one spot and to have up-to-date valuation information. Not all software programs can download up-to-the-minute stock market information, so if you need this functionality, you will have to make sure that you choose one that has it.

4) Do I need to keep track of foreign currency accounts or investment portfolios? If you have bank accounts or investments that are denominated in foreign currencies, you may need to keep track of their value in your home currency. For example, if you live in the U.S. and have a bank account in London denominated in pounds sterling, the value will change depending on fluctuations in the exchange rate between the dollar and the pound. Some programs can download current currency rates.

5) Do I need a software program that will track my actual spending to my budgetted spending? One of the most popular reasons to purchase personal financial software is to get a grip on spending and make sure that budgets are being followed. Most popular programs have that functionality, but some do not.

6) Do I need a software program that will print checks? It can be a time-saver to be able to print checks for bills directly from your software program. If your program has this functionality, it will record your payment at the same time it prints the check, thereby saving you a step. Printing your checks from a software program can also make you look more professional, which is especially important if you run a home-based small business.

7) Do I need help with planning my savings goals, such as retirement savings and college funds? Some programs ask you a variety of questions about your financial goals and will then be able to project the amount of money you will need to put away on a regular basis to meet those goals or will be able to project how much money you will have based on your current savings plan.

8) Do I need help with prioritizing debt reduction? If one of your main goals is to pay down your debts but you're not sure which ones make sense to pay down first, some of the popular software packages can help you prioritize and can show you how you are progressing with respect to your debt reduction goals.

9) Do I want a software program that will automatically download transactions from my bank account from the Internet? Many of the popular software programs can connect to your bank accounts online and directly import your banking transactions. This can be a huge time-saver if you have a lot of transactions. It will be important to know which programs are able to download from which banks.

10) Do I need to be warned when my bills are coming due? You know the electricity bill is due on the 15th. It's even marked on your calendar, but somehow, you forgot anyway and now it's going to cost you another $30 in late fees! Some personal financial software programs can help you avoid that situation by flashing a warning of impending due bills when you start up. This feature alone could save you more than the cost of the program.

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