2012’s hits, misses
The staff at Kiplinger’s Personal Finance magazine sat down and looked at some of the highs and lows of 2012, replacing the magazine’s traditional end-of-year best-of list. Here’s a smattering of the consumer-oriented hits and misses of 2012, as well as some insights from Janet Bodnar, editor of Kiplinger’s Personal Finance.
Click here if you want to read all of Kiplinger’s picks.
HIT: The Toyota Prius (pictured, top). Vincentric, an automotive-data firm, pegs the Prius’s five-year cost at $34,480, according to Kiplinger’s, making it a better bet than other hybrids.
Prepaid credit and charge cards
HIT: Bluebird (pictured), a joint venture recently launched by Wal-Mart and American Express, provides almost everything for free: no activation or monthly maintenance fee, online bill pay, and mobile check depositing with an app. Prepaid cards “usually come with a lot of fees attached,” Bodnar noted.
Frequent flier programs
HIT: American AAdvantage. There are plenty of ways to earn miles through partner airlines, credit cards, and retailer relationships, Kiplinger’s noted. And it’s only 15,000 miles to upgrade from economy to first class.
Tablets for kids
HIT: Kids 5 and older would be well-served by the latest version of the Kindle Fire (pictured), Kiplinger’s said. Also, the $199 Fire HD version includes FreeTime, which allows parents to set time limits for reading or playing games.
MISS: Pass on tablets aimed at children younger than 10, Kiplinger’s advised, as few apps and books are available. Next
HIT: Scoutmob has burst onto the scene and has improved upon the daily-deal formula, Kiplinger noted. And you don’t have to buy a deal ahead of time, either, meaning you won’t have five forgotten deal coupons you must spend in three days.
Sports ticket resale websites
HIT: The ticket resale market has become crowded in recent years, but Kiplinger’s goes with an old standby: StubHub. The company was founded in 2000 and purchased by eBay in 2007.
MISS: Buying early at the box office never ends well, Kiplinger’s said, although Patriots and (until recently) Red Sox fans may want to avoid this advice. Kiplinger’s cited figures from SeatGeek.com, which say you’ll pay 50 percent more for tickets if you buy them 90 days in advance vs. 24 hours in advance.
Pictured: A ticket buyer and seller negotiate outside Fenway Park prior to a May 12 Red Sox game. Next
On-the-go Internet plans
HIT: Virgin Mobile accesses Sprint’s data network and gives you data access without a contract, Kiplinger’s said. Virgin’s Broadband2Go plan charges $35 a month for 2 gigabites of 3G data, or $55 for 5 gigs. The best part: if you’re in Sprint’s 4G service area (still limited in the Boston area, unfortunately), you get unlimited 4G.
MISS: Toast.net simply charges more for a similar product that also runs on Sprint’s network, Kiplinger’s said: $40 for 2 gigs of data per month or $60 for 4 gigs — without any chance for 4G service. Next
Tax-friendly states for retirees
HIT: Alaska. It’s purely based on the numbers, Bodnar said. The state’s strong economic position allows it to cut some tax rates: one example is homeowners 65 and older getting a break in property taxes.
MISS: Connecticut isn’t extending the welcome mat for retirees, Kiplinger’s said. Social Security benefits are only excluded from state income taxes if your adjusted gross income is less than $50,000 (for couples, it’s $60,000). That’s in addition to the state’s high property taxes, and full taxes on out-of-state government and civil service pensions.
Pictured: A welcome-to-Connecticut on Interstate 91 south at the Massachusetts border.
Earning potential by major
HIT: Major in engineering, Kiplinger’s advised. In a recent Payscale.com survey, six of the top 10 majors for salary potential were in engineering. Petroleum engineering majors earn a median starting salary of $98,000, Payscale.com said.
MISS: Child and family studies. This was listed last on Payscale.com’s list of 130 majors for salary potential, according to Kiplinger’s. The median salary for college graduates: $29,300, Payscale said. Next
HIT: Ally Bank. Kiplinger’s said a checking account there can pay as much as 0.75 percent in interest (good luck finding that anywhere else on a long-standing basis), and savings and money market accounts offer 0.95 percent interest. And Ally refunds ATM fees.
Places to stash cash
HIT: You wouldn’t think of Sallie Mae (whose headquarters are pictured at left) as the place to give money—Sallie Mae usually taketh away. But the student loan organization’s bank has a money market account that pays 1.05 percent interest, and it doesn’t have a minimum-balance requirement or monthly maintenance fee. “It’s a good number for cash, [but] not a long-term investment,” Bodnar said.
MISS: Bodnar said you might as well be giving money back with Fidelity Tax-Free Money Market account. It recently yielded 0.01 percent, Kiplinger’s said, even low by money market account standards. Next
Changes in home prices
HIT: If you live in the Phoenix area, you’re in luck: home prices went up 23.9 percent in the year ending July 31, according to Clear Capital. That will help regain some of the value for homeowners, who experienced a 53.1 percent decline from 2006.
MISS: Memphis saw a 12 percent drop in home prices in the year ending July 31, Kiplinger’s said, citing Clear Capital data. Part of that may be the slow recovery of the local economy, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics says still has an unemployment rate (8.6 percent) above the 7.9 percent national average.
HIT: Replacing an older electric heater with an Energy Star-qualified heat-pump water heater ($1,000 to $1,600 for a 50-gallon model) will save the average family $290 a year, Kiplinger’s said. That means you’ll get your investment back very quickly.
MISS: Replacing a refrigerator built from 2001 onward won’t save a lot of cash, Kiplinger’s said, but getting rid of your ’80s-era model could save $100 or more each year. Back to the beginning
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