Picking up Nickels

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Starz Free Preview this weekend on DirecTV

Starz and DirecTV are offering a Free Trial of the Starz Super Pack starting today, September 30th and ending on Sunday, October 3rd.

If you are a DirecTV customer like me, all programming on channels 525 - 542 will be free for the entire weekend, so fire up your DVR and get the most out of this promotion. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Annual double digit health insurance premium increase is here

I've been talking about my ever-increasing health insurance premiums for several years now. This year was no exception as I was greeted with a 20% premium increase to keep my existing basic HMO plan for another year, although I ended up downgrading my plan yet again to one with lesser coverage and "only" a 13% price increase despite near zero rates of inflation.

The price increases over the past decade have been shocking. Since 2001, my health insurance premiums have increased by 143% while the rate of inflation during that time is a much lower 23% (so says usinflationcalculator.com):

When told about latest my increase, a family member commented, "They must be getting ready for Obama Care", despite the fact that I've been seeing these increases happening at least eight years before President Obama was in office and five years before then Governor Mitt Romney of Massachusetts enacted similar health care reform at the state level. Oddly, Romney seems to have no problems criticizing "ObamaCare" even though it is modeled after "RomneyCare" (as humorously illustrated by Mike Luckovich of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution):

I am very disappointed with our politicians who have focused on being anti-Democrat and anti-Republican instead of doing the right thing for the citizens that voted them into office. Many Americans see no need to change anything about our healthcare system since they have no idea how much money basic healthcare coverage costs and I think that something dramatic has to be done to make the average citizen aware of the frightening rate at which our health care costs have been increasing. I believe that once that information became public knowledge, the cries of "socialism!" would disappear and people would be demanding that our elected officials take action immediately.

One way I see to help open some eyes would be:

  1. End all employer subsidies of employee health insurance premiums. The full insurance premium should be documented on all pay stubs so that employees are aware of the full cost of their coverage as well as the extent of the large annual cost increases.
  2. Change income tax handling of health insurance premiums by adding a ceiling for tax deductibility (say $15k for families, $7500 for individuals) so that individuals would experience a tangible tax bite as premiums increase by a large amount every year and finally understand the extend of the crisis we're in.

I think that seeing the extent of these costs would lead to a groundswell of public support for real health care reform. Imagine the public outrage that would occur if rent or mortgage payments for everyone increased by 10% every year for a place with a sagging roof and peeling paint? I predict that the streets would be full of people calling for an end to these predatory price increases, and rightly so.

Monday, September 13, 2010

September 2010 Financial Asset Roundup

Here are my current financial assets as of the market close on September 10th, 2010:

Asset Aug 2010 Sep 2010 Change
Checking 609 175 -434
Money Market 33,099 32,346 -753
Savings Bonds 36,186 36,283 97
Treasury Bills 0 0 0
CDs 116,418 116,852 434
Brokerage 84,348 84,767 419
401k 86,935 86,831 -104
Roth IRA 40,324 40,220 -104
SEP IRA 215,900 218,768 2,868
529 Savings 45,839 45,966 127
Total Assets $659,658 $662,208 $2,550

The S&P 500 has ended faily flat over the past month with the index falling 1.03% since the last update:

(chart courtesy of msn.com)

The unemployment rate for August rose to 9.6% as business hiring picked up, while oil prices have fallen slightly to around $77 per barrel.

On the financial front, I am pleased to see my asset levels have surpassed my all time high from April 2010 despite the ups and downs of the stock market of late. I'm also a couple of weeks away from more above marked yield CD dominoes falling, with a Penfed 6% APY 4 year CD and a HSBC 2.00% APY 12 month CD maturing this month with a ING Direct 2.10% APY 12 month CD to follow in October. There are not many decent places to put that money now, but I did make a 5% APY CD reservation at Penfed for January 2011, which is an outstanding deal in the current economic climate. Unfortunately, I have the major expense of getting my lawn repaired looming to the tune of about $4000, but I'll cross that bridge when I get to it. I also intend to post my most recent punch in the gut due to my health insurance renewal information, which is horrible as usual.

On a personal note, I'm glad we were lucky enough to avoid a direct hit from Hurricane Earl and hope that the rest of the hurricane season will be quiet as I enjoy the passing of the sweltering summer heat. Bring on the Fall!

Friday, September 03, 2010

Duke of (Hurricane) Earl

Hurricane Earl is approaching and we have the misfortune of being in an area with a Tropical Storm Warning. We've battened down the hatches, filled up the cars at the gas station, have food and water on hand, and have the cellphones and flashlights charged and ready to go. I'm sure we'll think of a few more last minute things to wrap up before the heavy winds that are forecasted to arrive between 5-6 PM start to howl:

(map courtesy of National Weather Service)

The kids will be home early from school soon and the wind is still calm for now, but the tropical rain is hammering down on us already. My biggest hope is that this storm won't be as serious as Hurricane Bob in 1991, when we had widespread downed trees and no power for a week. The last thing we need is a lousy bookend to the flooded yard and basement we had in the spring. ;)