Kindle 3 vs. Nook Color: Yes, I Want an E-Reader

For someone who likes to think she doesn’t need a lot of material things, I sure like my gadgets. The past few Christmases, I’ve been lucky enough to receive a Nintendo DS, digital camera and a video iPod. While to many people, these aren’t exactly state-of-the-art electronics anymore — more a part of everyday life — I enjoy using them.

And now, as an avid reader, I’m considering getting an e-reader such as Barnes & Noble’s nook or Amazon’s Kindle. It almost seems blasphemous to give up the world of the truly printed word for an electronic device. It’s not quite the same to hold an e-reader, rather than a paperback or hardcover novel. There’s the fun of flipping the pages, finding where you left off when you lose your bookmark, or dog-earing the corners. I always have a book with me when I’m at home, and more often than not, it’s with me while I’m eating a meal — I can’t tell you how many books I own have ketchup or other minor food stains on random pages.

But to someone who’s not really tech-savvy, choosing an e-reader is a bit confusing. So I’ll share my research with you and we’ll figure this out together!

Kindle 3 Overview

The new Amazon Kindle weighs only 8.5 ounces with just the WiFi capability, while the WiFi/3G model comes in at 8.7 ounces. This version is 21% smaller than its predecessor, while keeping the same 6-inch display screen. It uses E-Ink technology, which has excellent contrast properties. With the wireless off, one charge is said to last 30 days; 2-3 weeks with it on. Either way, that’s some fantastic battery life. It also stores up to 3,500 books. You can buy books through the wireless interface and download them within 60 seconds.

Users have access to more than 700,000 books for purchase. There’s also more than 1.8 million free books; many published before 1923, so if you like the classics, it’s a great deal. I also like that you can read newspapers and magazines on it, and can “try out” books before committing to the purchase. The Kindle also has an “experimental” Webkit web browser and PDF readability.

Pricing:
Kindle WiFi: $139
Kindle WiFi/3G: $189

Nook Color Overview

Barnes & Noble’s Nook e-reader is pretty slick — first of all, it comes with a color LCD touchscreen. How useful is that for reading books? It’s not when the text is in black and white. But if you want to read magazines and color newspapers, it’s looks pretty sharp. The screen is larger, at 7 inches, but the weight, at 15.8 ounces, is almost double that of the new Kindle. It comes with WiFi (a 3G version isn’t available) and has an 8GB memory with an SD card expansion slot.

At 8 hours, the Nook Color’s battery life isn’t much to brag about. The backlit display sucks up a lot of energy and can be harder on the eyes than E-Ink displays because of the glare off the glass, which the designers tried to minimize with a laminate layer. The Nook Color also supports ePub, PDF and Word document formats (read-only), and allows the user to play games and listen to music.

B&N boasts a library of 2 million titles, and 1 million free books. I’m unsure whether the free books are part of the 2 million titles bragged about in the advertisements, but I tend to think so (creative license for the ads). I also like that you can lend books to other Nook readers. This feature already available.

Pricing:
Nook Color WiFi: $249

My Thoughts

I like the Kindle for my needs, as I don’t see myself reading magazines on my e-reader, especially with a ‘small’ screen. It’s lightweight and at a great price point.  You can listen to music on both, but I have an iPod for that. Amazon currently doesn’t charge for the Kindle’s 3G service, but like anything else, that could change at any time. I prefer the wireless since we already have a wireless router set up in our home, and I don’t travel much.

I don’t need it to do anything fancy — I just want to read. While I was resistant to e-readers at first, I’ve come to realize that it’s a pretty ‘green’ device, cutting down on using precious natural resources for actual hardcover and paperback books. Will it be the same experience? Of course not. There’s nothing that can compare to reading a book. But no matter which e-reader I choose, I think I’m going to grow to like it.

Do any of you have e-readers? Which of these two would you recommend?

Thankful for Financial Blessings

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Thanksgiving is tomorrow, and while most of us will be feasting on turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce, there are many out there who aren’t as fortunate. Some have nowhere to go, while others head to Thanksgiving dinners hosted by food pantries and nonprofit organizations. A friend of mine has become a champion fundraiser, and this month, she decided to help out a local food pantry by spearheading a food drive at work for turkey dinner staples.

I was more than happy to donate to the cause, and it made me realize how lucky we are. We’re healthy, happy and financially stable. We won’t be retiring by the age of 40, but we’re not in massive, unmanageable debt, either. There are many people out there who are less fortunate, and I remember that every day.

What I’m Thankful For

– Good health. Sure, I have some medical issues, but they’re not life-threatening and are manageable.

– Good financial health. We have minimal credit card debt (<$500), a 0%-interest car loan and a mortgage with a low interest rate.

– Steady jobs. Both Mr. Saver and I are still employed, despite the country’s economic situation.

– Health insurance. While the co-pays are a bit high, it’s still a million times better than having no insurance at all, a scary proposition with a baby on the way. Another friend recently told me the hospital charged her insurance company $40,000 to have her baby — naturally, but induced labor. Her responsibility? $0!

– 401(k)s. We also both still get our original company matches on our 401(k) contributions — he gets 50%, up to 6% of his salary, while I get a full match of the first $1,000. That’s ‘free’ money.

– A healthy emergency fund. This account can cover 6 months worth of expenses in case of emergency, and I’m happy to have it. We continue to build it up with monthly contributions.

– Hand-me-downs. Whether baby clothes or furniture, swapping stuff over the years has saved a lot of money (and freecycling rocks). I hate wasting stuff! I’m STILL sorting through the tons of girl clothes given to me by a friend.

– Loving, supportive friends and family. You know who you are. You’ve always been there for me through thick and thin, and I will never forget it.

– My husband. Not to get too mushy here, but out of the dark came the light. And laughter and respect.

What are YOU thankful for this year?

Why Co-Signing for a Loan Isn't a Good Idea

It’s invariably happened to you or someone you know: Someone asks you to co-sign on a loan for them, whether it’s a car loan or a mortgage (but more often than not, it seems to be a car loan).

It begs the question: Should you co-sign on a loan? Ever?

The folks who will actually have the gumption to ask for your John Hancock — and the use of your credit score — for a loan are usually family members and close friends. Invariably, it’s a car loan or a personal line of credit. While they’re not asking you directly for the money, there could be some financial repercussions down the road if they default on that loan — and drag your credit score down in the process.

Once your credit score drops due to their inability to make payments on the loan, it will be YOUR problem when you need credit.

The one (and probably only) thing that my father would never do for us kids is co-sign a loan. And we can’t blame him. Any financial sins on our part would drag him down with us — a missed payment on a loan account negatively affects ALL co-signers. The creditor doesn’t care who is “in charge” of paying the bill; they just want it paid. ON TIME.

A loan is a legal contract — not something to be trifled with.

Is There a Solution?

If you really want to help out your family member or friend financially, you can do one of two things — or both!

1) Loan them your own money for the purchase. But instead of risking your credit score, you’re now risking your hard-earned cash. There’s no guarantee that you’ll ever see any of that money again, although that’s the pessimistic view. To help insure this “investment,” have a lawyer draw up a simple loan/payback agreement so it’s on paper. That way, if things go awry, you may have some legal recourse. While you might get your money back, you’ll likely become estranged from whoever you’ve loaned the money to.

2) Help them improve their financial situation — and their credit score. If their score is too low to qualify them for the loan, there’s a more pressing issue to address: A craptastic credit score. That’s what is really holding them back. Instead of sacrificing your high credit score, help them figure out what they can do to improve their own. Perhaps it’s debt overload, or they’re a chronically-late bill-payer. Either way, they’ll need to repair their finances. Learning financial responsibility can only help them in the long run.

Have you had family or friends put you in this position before? How did you handle it when they asked you to co-sign a loan?

When to Refinance Your Mortgage

Mortgage rates continue to be at record lows — as of this writing, the average interest rate on a 30-year fixed home mortgage is 4.26% — so many homeowners are probably thinking about refinancing their home mortgages. Is it worth it? Sure, you’ll see an immediate savings on your monthly mortgage payment, but you have to take into consideration closing costs, which can be another $5,000 to $10,000, depending on the associated fees assessed by your mortgage lender.

When we purchased our home in summer 2009, we were thrilled to get a 30-year fixed rate mortgage with a locked-in interest rate of 5%, which was a then-historic low. Now that rates are closer to 4.25%, we could easily save $160 per month if we refinanced and got that even-lower interest rate.

However, our closing costs would be sky-high, mostly because we’re in the NYC metropolitan area and costs for things such as title searches and lawyer fees are higher than in much of the country.

Closing costs can include these fees:

  • Title search
  • Title insurance
  • Attorney fees
  • Home inspection
  • Survey
  • Credit check
  • Mortgage application fee
  • Points
  • Local taxes & transfer fees

Generally, I’m more of a fan of paying down mortgage debt by making extra principal payments — whether biweekly, monthly or yearly (or anything in between that’s sanctioned by your mortgage lender). If you won’t be penalized by your lender, pay more than the monthly payment, but make sure that it goes to the principal, not to escrow. We’ve been paying an extra $25 each month from the very first mortgage payment. While it doesn’t sound like a lot, it adds up: Even if we never increase that extra payment from $25, we’ll have shaved a full year off our 30-year mortgage, saving $11,500 in interest overall.

Doing the Math

Using our previous closing costs as an estimate, we’d have to cough up more than $7,000 to refinance to the lower interest rate. And it would take almost 4 years to recoup those costs and make the refinance worthwhile. Now while that seems like a long time, here is an interesting breakdown of our options and how they affect interest payments.

1. Keep Paying Original Mortgage. With no extra payments, our interest costs are nearly as much as our actual mortgage balance.

2. Keep Original Mortgage, But Make Extra Payments. As I previously stated, for us, paying an additional $25 per month toward the principal knocks off $11,500 in interest by the end of the full original 30-year mortgage term.

3. Refinance to a New 30-Year Fixed Mortgage. We could lower our interest rate by .75%, which equals a monthly savings of $160. However, I estimate that our closing costs would be $7,000. On the surface, this option makes the most financial sense because the total interest savings would be $44,000 after 30 years ($51,000 minus the $7,000 in closing costs), as compared to option 1. But we’d either have to pay that $7K in closing costs in cash or roll it into the newly refinanced mortgage, which would bring us right back to our original mortgage amount, albeit with lower monthly mortgage payments. And it also doesn’t take into account the interest we’ve paid thus far on our original mortgage (about $17,000). So really, the overall interest savings would be closer to $27,000.

There is a fourth option: Increase the extra monthly payments on the original mortgage. If we increase our extra principal payment to $95 per month, we would see the same interest savings as offered by refinancing — AND knock 3.5 years off our original 30-year mortgage term, rather than extending the time it’ll take to pay off our home.

Keep in mind that refinancing ‘resets’ your mortgage — it’s another full 30-year term, which may not be attractive to older homeowners who don’t want to be paying for their house into their retirement years, especially if they’ve already made 10-15 years of payments into their original mortgage.

Which is the best option? It’s hard to say, because it depends on individual circumstances. If all you want is a lower monthly interest rate in order to better fit your budget, then refinancing might be right for you, as long as you’re okay with the extra time it will take to pay off your home. If you don’t plan to own the house for very long, there’s almost no benefit to refinancing because of the closing costs. And if you’re underwater on your home, lenders likely won’t give you the best rates.

As always, crunch the numbers and do your homework before making any major financial moves.

Frugality on a First Date: Are Coupons Off-Limits?

How early do you reveal your frugality to a potential boyfriend/girlfriend? I heard an interesting discussion about coupons on a morning radio show the other day. The main gist of it was whether it’s appropriate to use coupons on a first date. Most of the women felt it showed the guy to be cheap — rather than frugal — if he whipped out a buy-1-get-1 entree coupon at the end of the meal. Apparently, it’s all about first impressions, and most of these ladies didn’t feel this made for a positive one.

Poor, poor frugality. It’s unappreciated, unwanted and looked down upon by others.

According to the female radio callers, pulling out a coupon on the second or third date is more acceptable…sort of. But on a first date, it’s a total no-no. They want to know that you men out there are willing to spend money on them from the very beginning, even if it means spending money you don’t necessarily have. I didn’t hear one woman say that it’s okay to use a coupon on a first date — it’s a total turn-off to them.

It seems paying with a credit card is okay, though. But to me, it’s the same idea: By using the plastic, you’re telling me that you don’t have the cash to pay for the purchase. I’m willing to bet more than 80% of people who pay with credit cards aren’t doing it for the points or cash rewards — they’re doing it because of their lack of funds.

My Thoughts

I’ll freely admit that while I have always watched my finances carefully, I didn’t classify myself as truly “frugal” until a few years ago. That was when I started seriously couponing and looking for deals for everything from groceries to clothing.

We’re way past the honeymoon stage of the relationship — Mr. Saver and I have been together for almost 6 years and married for 19 months — but my frugal ways have rubbed off on him. Whenever he wants to make a purchase, he runs it by me first to see if it’s a good deal, and he now takes his own initiative to look for promotional codes or coupons for meals or purchases. Just yesterday, he found a promo code for a movie ticket purchase — I was so proud of him!

But how would I have felt had he brought me out on our first date to a nice restaurant and proceeded to pay for it with a coupon? I can’t honestly say, as the situation never happened. Further into our relationship, there were times when I was the one who brought a coupon, proffering it to our server when the check arrived, much to his embarrassment and chagrin. So I don’t think I would have frowned upon Mr. Saver bringing out a coupon during one of our first dates.

So is it a poor decision to use a coupon on a first date? I think it only offends people because many Americans have trouble managing their finances. And some people believe “frugal” is a dirty word. But in my family, it’s not.

Another way to look at it: When you’re auditioning potential mates, wouldn’t you want his or her true personality to shine through from the very beginning, rather than pretending to be something he or she isn’t?

Getting Over My Fear of Investing in the Stock Market

With the interest rates on certificates of deposit at ridiculous lows — below 1% at my local bank, which usually has higher returns than the big-name banks — what’s a cautious investor to do? I still dream of the heyday of 5.5% interest rates on 6-month CDs, when I laddered CDs to my heart’s content. But after the 20% down payment we made when purchasing our home last year, it took a while to rebuild our savings account. Now that we’ve got a healthy emergency fund, I’m looking to invest some of our extra cash.

The highest interest rates on CDs right now aren’t even touching 1.50% — so what makes me think the stock market can do better? The historical data does show that the buy-and-hold technique brings bigger returns.

One of my fears about investing in the stock market is that I’m not a buy-and-hold kind of person. If I see an individual stock I hold shoot upward and making a decent profit, I’m going to want to sell it and put the money in the bank. In the end, I’m just too conservative. What I really have to think about is finding stocks that offer solid dividends, which are good to hold long-term. Re-invest those dividends and your holdings grow.

Looking at the historical figures, stocks have provided the greatest rate of return on your investment. But beginners need to know a bit more about how to invest in the stock market — and I would be a beginner. These are some of the most basic things to know.

What Is Stock?

When you purchase shares, in essence you are claiming part ownership of that particular company. These share represent your “stock” in the business — when business is booming, you profit. When it’s not, you’ll share in the losses by seeing the stock price go down. The ownership of shares is mostly registered electronically nowadays, although stock certificates may be still issued by some companies (paper certificates are no longer required).

Buy-and-Hold

This is the most well-known and lucrative technique for investing in the stock market. It’s a long-term strategy meaning that once you purchase a stock, you don’t sell it for a period of time. This is the easiest way to weather the ups and downs of the market over time. Otherwise, unskilled beginner investors (like us!) would have trouble “timing” the market in order to turn a profit. Buying and holding stock also reduces the cost of fees paid to brokerages for every transaction.

Research Before Buying

You wouldn’t want to invest your hard-earned money with a bank that has shady business practices or seems financially insolvent, right? The same goes for businesses in which you’re interested in buying stock. Some companies are consistent earners, with the stock prices steadily trending upward. Then you have those that go the opposite way — prices spiral downward over time, and it’s hard to judge where the “bottom” will be. Call up the stock’s charts and look at how its been performing over time, in monthly or yearly increments.

You can also learn more about specific companies by searching for news articles. Maybe a specific pharmaceutical company is being heralded for its newest medication, or another company has invented a life-changing technology. This is a good indication that the business is strong and continuing to grow. Alternately, bad news, such as lawsuits and debt, should serve as warning signs that the company’s stock isn’t a good investment.

There’s much more to picking stocks, but these are the basic things to know before you throw your hat — and hard-earned money — into the stock market. Perhaps sometimes soon I’ll find a stock that tickles my fancy and start investing.

Understanding Your Explanation of Benefits

It can be confusing to understand your Explanation of Benefits (EOB) paperwork when it comes from your health insurer after a medical visit. I know it took me a while to understand mine, especially after this year, when I received a LOT of them in response to my numerous doctor’s visits. An EOB is not a bill — that will come later if you owe money.

Health insurers are required to provide an explanation of benefits to the patient or insured party in response to a claim being filed, particularly when the medical service isn’t being paid entirely by the insurance company. I received EOBs because I was required to give a $20 or $40 co-pay for each visit as my expected contribution.

An EOB routinely shows the name of the service provider, the name and date of the service, how much the provider is charging for said service, and how much of the amount will be paid by the insurer after deductibles and co-pays. There are also codes associated with each service, and the key on the back of the EOB paperwork explains what each code stands for. They’re usually an explanation of why a certain service isn’t being covered or fully reimbursed, or notes some sort of error on the part of the medical provider submitting the bill to the insurance company. And this happens a lot.

My Recent Experience

It’s a good idea to ALWAYS look at your explanation of benefits paperwork when it comes in the mail (or online, if you receive it that way). You’ll be more likely to catch errors, as I did recently.

When my latest EOB came, I saw that our health insurer wasn’t covering any of my recent bloodwork. My ob-gyn ordered routine tests — checking for vitamin D levels, and a full thyroid panel that looks at TSH, T4, free T4, T3 and thyroid antibodies. I’ve had the thyroid panel done numerous times over the years, and I’d definitely had thyroid bloodwork done this year, my first being covered under my husband’s health insurance. The EOB codes were telling me that I wasn’t covered by insurance at the time the service (bloodwork) was provided. And I definitely had coverage.

So I realize that something was amiss — and that I was only a week or two away from getting a bill for the total of $433 — a bill I sure as heck wasn’t paying. Conveniently, this explanation of benefits showed up on a Friday, and by the time I saw it after work, it was too late to reach anyone at the lab that billed the insurer for the bloodwork. I hopped on the lab’s website and was able to resubmit my insurance information, thinking that it was probably a simple human error in inputting the information.

I followed that up with a phone call to the billing department on Monday, and lo and behold, the customer service rep told me the claim went through — properly.

Looking at the updated EOB online, while I would have had to pay the full total of $433, the laboratory only received $67.79, a small portion of the amount charged for each test. Some of the tests garnered the lab no payment at all!

What I find interesting is that while the medical provider or laboratory bills the insurer one amount, the insurance company most often only pays a portion of that charge. Why is that? If I were responsible for the service, I would be expected to pay the entire cost — not just a portion of it. If anyone has the answer, I’d be interested to hear it.

Investing for Baby

One of the bazillion (yes, I made that up) things I’ve been thinking about is what financial steps we should be taking to prepare for our baby. We’ve already made the obvious choice of spending less and saving more now while I’m pregnant, but we were pretty good savers before, too. But I know there are different savings vehicles, such as 529 plans for college saving, brokerage accounts and savings bonds. But then we have to think about our insurance needs, both medical and life, and beneficiary selections.

The grandparents are very excited on both sides, of course. But if I’m asked if we need anything, we’re going to tell them to start savings accounts for their grandchild. By the time our little one is ready for college in 2028 or so (wow, frightening to see that year in print), the now-expensive tuition will be astronomical, so every little bit will help. One online calculator estimates we’ll need $300,000 saved to send our child to a 4-year college! That’s on top of saving for both of our retirements in another 36 years or so, assuming we could retire at 67.

Saving for College

Savings Bonds — These tried-and-true savings vehicles take time to mature, but if you start early, you’ll help your child pay for college. They’re a good option because you don’t have to pay taxes on the interest if they’re used to pay for higher education. Backed by the U.S. Treasury, there are two types. Parents can buy up to $10,000 in Series EE and I bonds per year — $5,000 in paper bonds and $5,000 in electronic bonds.

  • I Bonds – Purchased at full face value, I bonds accrue interest monthly at a fixed rate, compounded semi-annually. There’s also a “bonus” semi-annual inflation rate, announced each May and November. These types of bonds accrue interest for 30 years.
  • Series EE Bonds – These bonds work a bit differently. Series EE bonds are bought at 50% of the face value, meaning you pay $50 for a $100 Series EE bond. The interest rate is tied to market value, and therefore, it takes varying amounts of time for them to mature. The catch here is that you have to cash in the bonds in the year they mature or else be faced with fees and penalties.

529 Plans — This higher education savings vehicle can be used for tuition, room and board, fees, books and supplies, but money in these plans can’t be used to pay student loans. Contributions are made post-tax, but some states may allow for the contributions to be deducted come tax time. An advantage of the plan is that while the account is held by the person who started it, anyone can make contributions — grandparents, aunts, uncles, friends. Also, earnings on the account are tax-free when used toward college costs.

UMGA/UTMA Custodial Accounts – Acronyms for the Uniform Gifts to Minors Act and the Uniform Transfers to Minors Act, UMGA and UTMA accounts are held and managed by parents or guardians in trust for the beneficiary, a minor child. When the minor comes of age (18 or 21 depending on state of residence), they fully inherit control of the funds in these accounts. These funds can be used for any expense, not just college tuition and related costs. But the tax benefit of these accounts is negligible — while the tax liability is shifted to the child, they may still be in a higher tax bracket when they receive full ownership of the funds in the account.

Taxes

Adjusting Withholding – Currently, we both claim “zero” on our W-4 forms to offset the extra income I bring in through freelance work, on which I pay taxes. But now that we own a home, we don’t need our employers to take that much money out of our paychecks every week, thanks to deductions on mortgage interest and property taxes. And with a baby, we could claim 3 exemptions — ourselves and the little one. It’s also a fair guess that I’ll be doing far less freelance writing for a while!

Insurance

Medical insurance – We’ll be adding our new addition to the health insurance we have through Mr. Saver’s employer, but the paycheck deduction will increase because we’re going from employee+spouse to an employee+family plan. There’s nothing we can do about this; the little one needs coverage, too!

Life insurance — We have yet to purchase life insurance, but now might be the time to look into a term life policy. We want to provide for the surviving spouse and our child in case something happens to one of us.

We know how important it is to provide for our child, and we hope to look into these ways of helping invest in our baby’s future. Are there any other finance-related areas we should be thinking about?

Balance Transfer Fees Increasing

I remember the good old days when not only did I get tons of credit card balance transfer offers with 0% or 1.9% percent interest rates, but there was no balance transfer fee, either! Now I’m seeing few reduced-interest-rate offers, and most will cost consumers 3%, 4% or even 5% in fees based on the transaction.

I know a number of people — myself included — who used to shuffle balances around from 0% offer to 0% offer in order to not pay interest, back when there was no transaction fee. Some folks even used the offers to take out money on credit and use it to pay off car loans or even invest the money in certificates of deposit. Of course, that was back when the economy was booming and consumers were getting 5%-6% interest on CDs!

In the long run, it’s usually still worthwhile if you plan to pay off the entire balance before the balance transfer offer expires, which could be 4 months, a year or some other predetermined amount of time. Although you’ll pay some fees up front for the balance transfer, it’s likely to be less than the interest you’d be paying on a balance being charged at 15% or 20% interest.

Example:
You owe $3,000 on a credit card with an 15% annual interest rate. If you throw $300 monthly toward the balance (without incurring new charges), it would take almost a year to pay off — 11 months — and cost you $225 in interest charges.

With a 0% balance transfer offer, good for 12 months, which includes a 5% transaction fee, you’d pay $150 up front for the balance transfer fee. But you wouldn’t be paying interest, saving you $225 on that end. So overall, if you transferred that $3,000 to the 0% offer with the 5% transaction fee, you’d save $75 ($225 in old credit card interest minus the $150 transaction fee). And instead off 11 months, you’d wipe that debt in 10 months as long as you still make the $300 monthly payment you were making before.

Balance Transfer Offers Are a Ploy

The credit card companies aren’t being nice to their customers by teasing low interest rates under your nose — they want you to transfer a big balance and charge you that transaction-fee percentage. And they hope you don’t pay off the balance before the low interest-rate period is up. Then, you’ll be back to square one, with a balance that’s subject to the credit card’s prevailing interest rate, likely to be back to that 15% or higher rate you were at with the other credit card.

They just want your money, and they’re banking on you not paying off your credit card balance before the lower-interest rate offer expires!

Things to Keep in Mind

Not only will the credit card’s prevailing interest rate kick in once the balance transfer promotional period is over, there are other things to consider.

– If you transfer a balance to a credit card that you’re already carrying debt on, future payments will go toward paying off the lower-interest debt first. This means your original debt will still accrue interest at the higher rate. My advice is to only transfer balances to a credit card with no other debt on it.

– Only use balance transfer offer if it will help you pay off your credit card debt. Don’t just juggle balances from card to card, chasing low interest rates while making minimal payments. If you’re serious about getting out of credit card debt while minimizing the amount of interest you’re paying on the debts, then go for it.

– Miss a payment? Then you might be screwed in three ways. 1) It can damage your FICO credit score, 2) It’ll probably show up on your credit report as a late payment, and 2) You’ll lose that low promotional interest rate.

– Don’t cancel the old credit card. While it might make you feel better to close the account, it can potentially damage your credit score by eliminating relevant credit history. Instead, keep the old account active by charging a small purchase once a month — perhaps a tank of gas or a recurring charge, such as a Netflix monthly fee.

I don’t plan to use any balance transfers in the near future, as we don’t have much on our credit cards. After paying off all of our credit card debt, there were some unexpected expenses that we charged to a card to get some cash reward points, but the balance will be paid off by the end of October. And the current transaction fees on those balance transfers aren’t appealing at all.

Generic Drugs vs. Name-Brand Drugs

When I switched endocrinologists, my new doctor wasn’t happy to see I was taking the generic version of Synthroid, called levothyroxine, to treat my Hashimoto’s thyroiditis autoimmune disease. We discussed how my previous endocrinologist didn’t seem to mind, as he’d checked off the “allow generic substitution” on the prescription, which allowed my pharmacy to fill it with the generic version to begin with.

New doctor said there’s not always a consistent dosage in the pill because the Rx can be filled with generics from different manufacturers — and particularly now, I need my dosing to be precise. I wound up switching back to the name brand, Synthroid, and I believe I feel the difference. I feel that it’s treating my condition better. Of course, instead of paying $10 for a 30-day supply of the generic version, levothyroxine, I now pay $25.69 for that same 30-day supply, but it’s the original, Synthroid — it would normally be $30 with my health insurance’s co-pay for brand-name prescriptions, but since it costs less than that, I’m charged the lower price.

The FDA claims the active ingredients in generic drugs have to be the same. But there are other ingredients such as fillers that can cause the body to absorb the medicine differently than if it were the brand-name drug. I don’t find this to be true of every generic — I still use generic versions of Tylenol, Motrin, DayQuil, antibiotic first-aid cream and the like — but I feel the difference with the Synthroid. I’ve also used generic versions of birth control and antibiotics with no problems.

Differences Between Generic & Brand-Name Prescription Drugs

1. The names. Brand-name drugs have, well, branded names — names that are heavily featured in marketing materials and advertisements. They’re on notepads, pens, clipboards and stethoscope covers used by doctors and nurses. Free samples are given to doctors’ offices in the hopes that they’ll be more apt to prescribe the drug to patients if they can give them a “starter” pack.

2. There can be some variation in the absorption rate. The active ingredient has to be the same, but the amount of time it takes for the drug to be absorbed in the body can differ by up to 20 percent. But that’s not supposed to affect how the drug works on patients.

Pros & Cons of Generic Drugs

PRO – Generics are cheaper — sometimes, a LOT cheaper. That’s much easier on the wallet, especially if you’re on a long-term drug, like I am. I’ll be taking some dosage of Synthroid — whether name-brand or generic — for the rest of my life.

PRO — Generics are regulated by the Food & Drug Administration. Which means, theoretically, you should always have the same amount of active ingredient in your pills.

CON — A lot of doctors don’t trust generic formulations, even though they’re suposed to be regulated. My doctor offers a prime example of this mistrust.

CON — While the FDA says the absorption rate of the active ingredient in a generic prescription drug has to be within 20 percent of that in the brand-name drug, the FDA doesn’t follow up to enforce that rule. That’s not very reassuring!

There is always going to be a lot of back-and-forth about whether generic prescription drugs can 100-percent be confidently used to replace brand-name prescription drugs, so it’s best to ask your doctor about which is preferable in your specific situation.

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