Thursday, May 24, 2012

Should I Drop Chase Bank?

"Chase your money" indeed!
I have frequently said to myself that if ING DIRECT could get remote deposit figured out, I'd close my Chase account. Here's some back story.

Several months ago, I posted how enamored I was with J.P. Morgan Chase because they allowed me to deposit checks remotely (even though I was also cranky with them because they made it difficult to make online payments). These issues aside, I've not been pleased with how Chase and other big banks handled themselves during the financial crisis of 2008, and I'm especially not happy with Chase losing over $2 billion in what were supposed to be low-risk hedges.* While I didn't take part in last year's push by many financial bloggers to close their big-bank checking accounts and move their money to credit unions, I appreciated the idea and thought long and hard about doing so.

All that said, I keep another set of bank accounts through ING DIRECT. Unfortunately, for much of its existence, to use ING DIRECT in a timely manner you basically needed another checking account to transfer money in and out of. You could send them checks, but that seemed like such an antiquated method considering ING was an online bank. It was like somebody offering you a free place to store your valuables, but in order to get your valuables to that location, you needed to send them via horse and buggy. What are we, Amish?

However, these draconian deposit methods are no longer the norm. As of last month, ING DIRECT has added remote deposit. As Five Cent Nickel has done a good job of explaining ING's rules for remote deposit, I'll leave you to look over the specifics there. A couple of those rules stand out, especially ones regarding limits of what how much money can be deposited and how quickly those funds will be available for use.

One cool option that ING DIRECT gives with this remote deposit is that one can either snap pictures via smartphone (like Chase does), or folks can scan the image at home and deposit online via computer. While I haven't tried the computer scanning option yet, I'm tempted to like this better than the cell phone option, as, at least with Chase, I frequently have to snap more than one picture as the first one isn't clear enough, and the Chase app on my iPhone makes me take another one.

And yet...

I'm finding it difficult to close my Chase account, and I'm having a hard time discerning why. I've written before that nostalgia can be a chief reason people make bad financial decisions, but I don't think I'm nostalgic for this account. In the first place, this account started when I opened my account with Washington Mutual back in 2000; Chase only took over my account when it took over WaMu after WaMu failed in 2008. Chase has since added fees to WaMu's "free" checking accounts, though I've largely been able to circumvent these charges due to getting paid via direct deposit (direct deposit being one of the handful of exceptions you can use to keep your checking accounts "free").

I think I just like the safety that comes with the ability to go into a brick and mortar bank. For instance, though many ATMs allow you to deposit cash, I very rarely take advantage of this. Though I've never had any problems with deposits, it feels like if there were ever a problem, I'd just be out my cash. With cash, I much prefer to go to a teller, have him or her count it, and get my receipt knowing that there can't be any confusion about my deposit.

I guess that's my sticking issue: depositing cash. To be fair, to my knowledge, there's no way to deposit physical cash to ING DIRECT, so this whole blog post has been something of a red herring. I set up what my conditions were, and I then went with an undisclosed condition. I'll keep my Chase account open for the time being. Feel free to leave your hate at my misdirection in the comments.**

On the subject of comments, does anybody out there ONLY have an online checking/savings account with no corresponding brick and mortar account? Would you consider doing so? Let me know.

*There's got to be more to this story than Chase is letting on. While J.P. Morgan has admitted that the traders in charge of those funds were using different risk rules than the rest of the company, it smells awfully fishy that the "safe" investments the traders were supposedly choosing caused such a big loss.
**While I guess I've made up my mind for now, if I ever have to start paying a fee for Chase's checking account, I'll pretty certainly close it. I suspect I'll trade it for a free checking account from a credit union rather than going all online though.

Photo by neoliminal.

Update 05/29/2012: This post was featured in the Carnival of Personal Finance #363.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

30 and Flirty -- An Evaluation

It's my 30th birthday today. While in reality, this is just a day not too different from either yesterday or tomorrow, there's something about this new milestone that feels resonant.* In a culture that worships youth as much as America (nay, western culture) does right now, it's almost ingrained within us to view aging with some combination of contempt, curiosity, and/or cheerlessness. This attitude was underscored in this week's episode of Mad Men where the young character Ginsberg, after doing some good work, proclaims, "Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!", to which Rizzo retorts that Ginsberg should really read the whole poem (which is about how even the greatest fall into obsolescence).**

Even so, I'm not one to mourn the passing of age (even as I realize that I'm now closer to 40 than I am to 18...gross) because I think that each new season of life offers advantages that each previous season did not (though there are also negative trade-offs, to be sure). In particular for me, I've always looked a bit older than my age said that I was, and so now that my age and my looks are a bit more similar, I think casting directors will have a better idea of what to do with me as I continue to audition.

Further, I'm happy with where I'm at in my life, and my life will only get more fulfilling come the fall as I start work on my Ph.D. While I don't think that further schooling is an end when it comes to happiness***, I'm actually excited about the work that I will be doing. I say "actually" because, oddly, in the last few months, I had become kind of burnt out on the ideas of deep analysis and art criticism, but in the last few weeks, I've found a couple of great, contemporary writers of long form criticism that have re-sparked my fire and reminded me of why I want to pursue this path.

In short, I feel that I, like Milhouse, can proclaim that everything's coming up Bryan.

*My wife and I were talking about going to see a play tonight as a birthday present, and I realized that she could still qualify for the "Under 30" ticket discounts that some of the theatres in the area use as a ruse to get younger people into the seats, whereas I would, obviously, no longer qualify. I wonder whether I will now enjoy the show 2-3 times as much as that's how much more my ticket will cost. What a difference a day makes, eh?
**I also found out that I'm younger than Kim Kardashian, which makes me profoundly happy for some reason.
***It has become something of a tradition with my friend group to hold roasts for the birthday boys when they turn 30. To paraphrase a line from a friend, "Bryan was recently accepted into a Ph.D. program in theatre, which is pretty great, because if the theatre needs anything right now, it's more doctors."

Photo by Aih.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Benihana Is Pretty Generous

Spoiler alert: at least in California, they can't do this anymore.

If you're anything like me, then you're probably the world's fattest man you probably enjoy the occasional nice meal out. One place that my wife and I enjoy from time to time is Benihana. What can I say? Having Mexican hibachi chefs pretending to be Japanese hibachi chefs just screams foodie haven to me.

Joking aside, Benihana is delicious, but it's dang expensive. What to do?

Well, I recently found out that Benihana is very generous when it comes to birthdays. If you sign up for their email list here (which is a drag, I know), they will send you a $30 gift certificate towards food during your birthday month. The catch is that it's only good Mondays through Thursdays. Still, $30 will pay for most of your steak dinner.*

I'll be turning 30 this month (woo-hoo!...?), and so I just got my certificate in the email. Here's hoping that $30 worth of fried rice and scallops helps drown my sorrow at being closer to death.

*I am in no way affiliated with Benihana. It's just a good deal that I recently learned about. Free money for having been born! Hooray!

Photo by NathanReed.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Do I Need a Financial Adviser Anymore?

Money and butter: both are lubricants.
When my wife and I started our full-time jobs several years ago, my wife was interested in getting a financial adviser that would keep track of her/my/our money (we weren't yet married) and suggest investments. We found a very nice, qualified person who has more or less done well for us. As we were young and didn't start out with a lot extra to invest beyond our 401(k) plans, our financial adviser exclusively invested our money in a couple of mutual funds.

In the last year, as I've grown more interested in money topics, I've started to do a lot more research on investing and what my wife and I will need to do to retire. I've taken what I've learned, and I started a Roth IRA for myself last year, and I put money into it and chose investments for it. While I don't want to go into the details of it, suffice it to say that I have not (knock on wood) lost any money in that account, and I'm even a few hundy in the black.

The problem is that I, like a good number of other adults, have come to realize and understand that mutual funds (while coming with the positive of being diversified) are not without the negative of annual fees. When you take into account that my wife and I pay an additional fee each time we make a purchase from our financial adviser (it is how she gets paid, which is fair enough), I'm not convinced that I need a financial adviser any longer to recommend which mutual funds I should invest in, particularly since Sharebuilder (my online brokerage) offers certain mutual funds for which I don't need to pay any fee to purchase.*

I guess I'm just saying that if I weren't so interested in learning about saving and investing right now, I would be a lot happier spending the money on a financial adviser to take care of my money. However, since I do spend a good amount of time each week researching money and investing, the work of a financial adviser (at least in the capacity that ours has thus far helped us) seems a little bit unnecessary.

I'm bring this up now because my wife and I met with our adviser last week, and we mentioned that we both had old 401(k) accounts (the company we work for has had three different owners since we started working for it, and with each new owner comes a new benefits program), and our adviser suggested that she facilitate rolling them over with the other accounts that we have with her. While this might be a good idea if we were especially concerned about having all of our accounts in one centralized location (which isn't necessarily a bad idea), I'm a little concerned about the fees we'll be charged to roll the money over (both from the banks as well as the chunk that will go to our adviser). When I reviewed my investments in the 401(k) last month, I verified that my money is already in low-cost mutual funds; why should I pay a chunk of money to move them to another set of mutual funds?

On the one hand, I think that I might just be being cheap. As I mentioned above, our adviser has done well enough by us, so I shouldn't be nonplussed by the fees that she gets to do her job (do I begrudge a waitress a tip for doing her job? Well, sometimes [at least on take out]). On the other hand, with my own burgeoning competence at investing, the money we pay her just seems like extra money out.

What do you think? Am I just being a jackwagon? Have you used a financial adviser, and, if so, have you had positive experiences? Let me know in the comments.

*To be fair, we're meeting with her next week, and, now that we have a bit more money to invest, it's possible that she'll advise us to invest in other avenues. We'll see.

Photo by emdot.