Exchange Your Gift Cards for Cash

I posted about Plastic Jungle a few weeks ago after I sold them a bunch of my gift cards. I received payment (in Amazon.com gift cards) approximately a week after I dropped them in the mail. After selling my gift cards with success, I figured the industry was worth taking a closer look at. I am willing to bet that you have a few gift cards lying around your home somewhere. At some point we’ve all received a gift card to a store we never visit. Previously these gift cards would end up being placed somewhere in the house until they were lost, or we’d force ourselves to go to the store and make a purchase we didn’t necessarily want or need.

Recently, there’s been an explosion of websites aimed at helping people to get rid of their unwanted gift cards, or purchase gift cards they want at a discount. The four main players I identified were Cardpool, PlasticJungle, GiftCardRescue, and MonsterGiftCard. From what I’ve seen, I’m not really sure that GiftCardRescue belongs on this list, because it’s on a tier below the others in my opinion. Below is a table of the rates I found when either selling or buying a $100 gift card at a basket of retailers.

Gift Cards Cardpool PlasticJungle

As you can see in the table I made, GiftCardRescue doesn’t have many good gift cards in stock. It also paid the least for every gift card I check. I’m not sure how they plan to stick around. The website looks horrible and confusing, they pay the least, and they have no good gift cards in stock. CardPool and PlasticJungle, in general, pay about the same for gift cards they’re buying, and charge about the same for gift cards they’re selling. Then it really becomes a comparison of features. PlasticJungle’s system simply looks easier to use. Plus, if you’re interest in receiving Amazon.com gift cards instead of cash, you’re going to get the best payout from PlasticJungle. It’s worth it to spend some time scouring your home collecting those unused gift cards. You should probably then check Cardpool and PlasticJungle to check if the payouts differ and then select which site to use. When selling a card, look to see if the website is going to pay the shipping. When buying, look into the guarantee offered by the website. Make sure the value of your card is guaranteed.

If you have used one of these websites, or another, to sell or buy gift cards, I’d love to hear your review. Make sure to post in the comments below.

Review: The Total Money Makeover by Dave Ramsey

Recently I wrote a quick introduction to Dave Ramsey. Now, I thought it would be appropriate for me to review his most popular book, The Total Money Makeover. This isn’t a book on how to invest your money, or how to get a great rate on a home loan. This book is more about Dave’s overall approach to personal finance. Dave’s Total Money Makeover really isn’t that detailed. There aren’t tons of facts to memorize or anything. Actually, about half the book is motivational stories from people who have used his system. If you’re currently in debt, though, it’s probably one of the best books out there.

If you live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.

Dave Ramsey Total Money MakeoverThat’s Dave’s motto, and he really sticks to it. Dave’s system is all about making short term sacrifices, getting out of debt, and paying for everything with cash. Before addressing the how-to, Dave first digs into the hurdles that keep people from achieving personal financial success. All of Dave’s principles are rooted in the fact that personal finance is 80% psychology, 20% knowledge. Nearly everybody knows what they should do, but doing it is a completely different thing. I think that becoming financially fit is similar to becoming psychologically fit. We all know that we should eat healthy and exercise often, but doing it is entirely different.

The first hurdle that Dave Ramsey addresses in denial. Having debt and living paycheck to paycheck has become “normal”. I think that denial is the #1 hurdle that is keeping people from achieving financial freedom. It’s easy to trick yourself into thinking that not paying off the credit card this month really isn’t a bad thing, because you’ll pay it next month. Or that you should get the latest iPod, because you work hard, and you deserve it. I know I’ve done both of these things.

Dave next addresses debt myths. You can’t deny the fact that history shows us that twisted logic, if repeated often enough and loud enough, can become the accepted norm. Debt is sold to us so often, that some debt has become known as “good debt”. We all know what “good debt” is, right? Mortgage loans and student loans are the two that immediately come to mind. Dave believes strongly that there is no such thing as good debt. He won’t yell at you for having a mortgage, but all other debt is strictly off-limits.

Thirdly, Dave Ramsey brings up what he refers to as money myths. Dave subtitles this section, “the (non)secrets of the rich” because that’s what they are. There are no secrets to becoming rich, just like there are no secrets to losing weight. People are constantly looking for the magic pill that will help them lose weight, or the DVD set that will help them generate a six-figure income while they work four hours per day. Many Americans continue to buy lottery tickets, since “somebody’s gotta win.”

The last two hurdles are ignorance and keeping up with the Joneses. High schools teach almost nothing about money, yet many of those students will go directly to work. They won’t pass go, they won’t collect $200. The fact that you’re even reading this ensures that you’re not ignorant when it comes to money. The ignorance factor plays right in with keeping up with the Joneses. The Joneses might have a cool car and take awesome vacations, but they’ll have that car payment their entire life and they are paying for their vacation with a credit card.

The Baby Steps

After going through what Dave considers to be the main hurdles to achieving financial independence and completing your total money makeover, he introduces his popular Baby Steps. Dave Ramsey has compiled a list of seven goals, which he calls his Baby Steps. Your can do anything you want in life as long as you have defined, manageable steps (goals) to get there. If you follow and complete each of Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps, you’ll be debt-free and financial independent. As you complete the Baby Steps, the idea is that you’ll focus on that one goal with all of your efforts. If you’re saving for an emergency fund, you should be doing only that. Most people fail at their finances because they try to do too many things at once. If you’re working to save money for an emergency fund while paying down debt you’re going to feel like you’re not making any progress because your efforts (and money) will be divided. Click on this link to check out the Total Money Makeover Baby Steps in detail.

Conclusion

Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover delivers big in the motivational department. There are testimonials littered throughout the book from people who have had success after implementing Dave’s Baby Steps. If this book doesn’t get you motivated to achieve financial independence, I don’t think anything will. The Total Money Makeover also delivers on explaining the “why” for many of the things Dave proposes, whether in his other books or on his radio show. However, some people may want a more practical, how-to book. The Total Money Makeover is Dave’s “why” book, and Financial Peace University is his “how to” book/course. This book is absolutely worth buying if you’re unfamiliar with Dave Ramsey. I think it’s still worth buying if you are familiar with him too and these types of books interest you. However, if you want more of a how-to book and you were only going to buy one Dave Ramsey book, I think that Financial Peace University is the way to go.


Ally Bank Review 2011

In its review of the best online banks, Kiplinger declared that Ally was tied with ING in the category of “no fees, no strings” banks. Ally Bank is an online bank that’s part of Ally Financial, which was previously known as GMAC. Ally Bank Review LogoAlly Financial has an interesting history. GMAC, which stands for the General Motors Acceptance Corporation, was originally founded in 1919 to provide financing to automotive customers. The company has since distanced itself from GM. In 2008 the company received $5 billion as part of TARP, and in 2009 an additional $7.5 billion. In 2009, GMAC’s banking unit officially changed its name to Ally. The government currently owns 55% of Ally, which is planning to IPO during 2011. So why am I telling you this? Well, Ally has made a lot of headway in the online banking industry, but I think it’s important to understand the history of a bank, even if it does not really reflect where the bank is currently. Ally focuses on providing simple banking products without hidden fees. Below is one of Ally’s commercials, which I think sums up its positioning pretty well:

One of the first things you need to do when looking at a bank, particularly an online one, is to ensure that it’s FDIC insured. A quick Google search shows that Ally bank is FDIC insured. Now that that bit of preliminary research is over, let’s get on with the review.

Savings Account

Ally Bank Online Savings Account

Let’s start off with Ally’s online savings account, which I’m sure many of you are interested in. It’s rate as of this review is 1.09%, which is on par with ING’s Orange Savings rate of 1.10%. ING has long been a favorite of those who choose to utilize an online bank account. You know what’s really cool? Ally isn’t afraid of telling you what other banks are offering. That’s how confident it is. It’s easy to make a list of competitor banks who are offering a lower return and throw it up on the site. But Ally even tells you that ING is offering a higher rate!

Ally Bank Rate Comparison

That’s pretty awesome if you ask me. You don’t see Best Buy showing you that everything it offers is cheaper on Amazon. If you go to the sign-up page, you’ll notice that Ally clearly states the terms of the account. There’s a $0 minimum balance. This is quite uncommon for a savings account. Ally also makes sure you know you’re going to be limited to 6 transactions out per month. That isn’t an Ally-only restriction, it’s actually a federal requirement on savings and money market accounts. I’ve found, though, that many banks bury that fact in the small print. As a user of the savings account, I can attest to its ease. Every month I move my savings over the my Ally accounts. Any time I want the money I can either write a check, or I can transfer it to one of my checking accounts.

Checking Account

I think Ally’s checking account is even more noteworthy than its savings account. Who said checking accounts can’t deliver high rates?

Ally Bank Checking Account Rates

As I’m sure you’ve realized, banks everywhere are offering less than 2% return on CDs. This is pitiful by historical standards, which is even more reason to take note of the account that offers you 0.5% (1.05% on balances over $15k) and allows you to remain completely liquid. Ally’s checking account features no fees, no minimum balances, free checks, and no ATM fees. For many, the absence of an ATM network is often cited as a reason for not using an online bank. Ally removes this argument by paying the ATM fees for you. At the end of the month Ally will reimburse any fees you pay to use ATMs at other banks.

CDs

Ally offers a number of different CDs. Though the rates are not the absolute highest (you can find higher rates by going to no-name banks), you simply aren’t going to get more transparency anywhere else. Ally’s No Penalty CD delivers 1.19% APY and features no fees. Not only that, but Ally offers you a 10-day rate guarantee. If they increase their CD rates in the next 10 days after you invest, you’ll get that rate. You can also withdraw your funds with absolutely no early withdrawal penalty. Any time after the first six days you can request your money back and they’ll give you all of the accumulated interest. Ally also offers a 2-year, 1.55% fixed CD. If at any time during the two years Ally is offering a higher rate, all you have to do is call them up and they’ll increase your rate to the current rate.

My Experience with Ally

So far, all I’ve done is covered the information you can find online yourself. Now, it’s time for me to give you my opinion. I’ve been using Ally for a few months now. When you first sign up your account will be opened immediately. Funding the account took days to transfer from my bank. Within a week I had my welcome pack in the mail. Within the first week I created my second Ally account. Ally, like ING, will allow you to open as many savings accounts as you’d like. It’s essentially a sub account. You don’t have to do any additional approval process or anything. Ally bank accountsYou can add a new account within 5 minutes. I’ve started setting up new accounts for each of my savings goals. It works great in conjunction with Mint.com. When you set up a goal in Mint you can assign one of your Ally accounts to your goal. For example, say you’re saving for a trip to Europe, you can put this savings in your Ally Europe Trip Savings account and Mint easily keeps track of your progress and alerts you if you’re ahead or falling behind in your savings for the trip.

I haven’t yet had to interact with Ally customer service. I think that’s a good thing, but unfortunately, that means I can’t comment on their customer service. I’ve heard, however, that it’s quite excellent. Seems easy to contact them by phone or by chat. At this point I highly recommend Ally. I’ve been loving being with them and they’re the place where I park my savings. I’ll be sure to update this post when I have any interaction with customer support or if my opinion of them changes in any way.

Have you had any experience, good or bad, with Ally? If so, please post below.