Thursday, October 12, 2006

Savings Accounts Made Simple


Maybe you want a new car, a computer, or money for the holidays. Maybe you want to have money for college, like me. Whatever your needs are, we all have one thing in common: we need money!

One of the latest trends in banking is a high interest savings account. Many financial institutions now provide savings accounts that yield five percent interest or more annually. Some of these accounts require large minimum deposits to open and even larger minimum balances to avoid monthly service fees. Others require little or no minimum deposit and refrain from charging fees to balances, no matter how big or small. Now is as good a time as any to open your own savings account for whatever your needs may be. Before you sign the dotted line or hit the submit button on that online application, you might want to familiarize yourself with the basics of savings accounts.


Savings vs. Money Market Accounts (MMAs)


Savings accounts are pretty simple: you open one, put your money in it, and earn interest on your balance. Money Market accounts (MMAs) work the same way, but they often yield higher interest rates than savings accounts. Because MMAs yield more interest, they usually require larger minimum deposits and balances (at least $1000). Recently, however, many MMA providers have minimized deposit and balance requirements to the savings accounts level, while maintaining high interest rates. Likewise, many savings accounts providers have begun to offer higher rates without increasing minimum requirements. So what does this mean to prospective savers? A plethora of savings options from which to choose await.


Interest Rates


Many savings accounts offer introduction interest rates that are somewhat higher than their average rates. Once the introduction period (usually a few months) is over, your interest rate may increase or decrease depending on your balance. Obviously, the more money you have, the more money you can make. Most savings account providers offer interest rates that can be compounded daily, monthly, quarterly, yearly, or all of the above. Basically, compounded interest is interest earned from the initial deposit you made to the account, plus any previous interest accrued. The more frequently your interest is compounded, the more your savings will grow. Most rates are compounded either daily or monthly, and again at the end of the year. For example, if you deposited $500 with a 5% monthly compounded interest rate, you would have $525 by the month’s end. The interest continues to grow as it is compounded regularly and at the end of the year. A lot of savings account providers have a high annual percentage yield (APY), which means your money can grow even larger. APY can easily be calculated using the following formula: P(1 + r)n, where P equals your initial deposit or current balance, r equals interest rate, and n equals total number of years deposited. Additional compound interest formulas are available online at about.com.

Minimum Deposits and Balances


Usually, the higher the interest rate, the higher the minimum deposit and balance. The deposit is the money you need to open a savings account or MMA. Minimum deposits can range anywhere from $1 to $25,000. Some savings providers also require accountholders to maintain a minimum balance to avoid monthly service charges. Minimum balances, like deposits, can be very high or very low, and monthly fees vary depending on the company providing your account. Unless you have hordes of money to stow away and not touch for a long time, an account with a high minimum balance just won’t work out. Like I mentioned previously, it is very easy to find a high interest savings program with low minimums and no fees.


Checks, ATM Cards, and Other Services


Savings accounts may also offer free checks and ATM cards that allow easy access to your funds. Your account provider might even throw in free reimbursement for any fees incurred from using another company’s ATM. However, before you decide on an account, make sure it’s not the other way around; you shouldn’t have to pay them to use their ATMs!
Because so much banking is now done online, most savings account providers offer online applications that can include some great benefits, like sign-up bonuses or increased interest rates. These applications also allow you to make your minimum deposit by transferring funds from your current bank account, so you never have to open a new checking account. To withdraw from your savings, most accounts allow you to transfer to your checking account, use an ATM card or checks, or pick up the money at a brick-and-mortar location.

All done!


Now that you know your way around savings accounts and MMAs, get out there and find one! The key is to find the savings plan that best suits your needs while providing tons of great benefits. Bankrate.com is one of the best websites to compare interest rates, minimum deposits and balances, and extra features. You can search by top highest yield rates or by state and organize your search results by the features that are most important to you. Plenty of savings accounts are lying in wait, hoping you’ll choose them. Just make sure they’re FDIC insured first.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

The Heart of Atlanta's Arts--Midtown.


It can be difficult differentiating Downtown from Midtown Atlanta, but most residents agree that Ponce De Leon Avenue draws the line between the two, with Downtown to the south and Midtown to the north of Ponce. This section of Atlanta boasts a dynamic mix of the arts, recreation, and dining.

Ponce begins near the Fabulous Fox Theatre, which is known for having the second largest theatre organ in the United States. Finding the place is easy: dozens of parking attendants advertising cheap parking (about $10 per day on the weekend) and the Fox’s grand marquee greet you as you cruise down Peachtree Street. Inside, the extravagant crimson and bronze décor will make you feel as if you’ve stepped inside a royal party (even if you just bought your tickets off a scalper). Upcoming October shows include The Light in the Piazza, a play about star-crossed lovers in Italy, and Giselle, performed by the Atlanta Ballet.

For your casual dining needs before or after the show, I recommend
Après Diem, located on Monroe Drive, a little over a mile from the Fox. Après Diem, an international café and bistro, serves light sandwiches, salads, and soups before three p.m. It’s after three when they start making their best dishes. My favorite is the fettuccini basilic, a classic Italian dish served with fresh basil and sautéed tomatoes. You can add grilled chicken or tiger shrimp to it if you’d like. Après Diem also offers seafood, fresh fruits, chicken, beef, beer, wine, and much more. Order the addictive hummus as an appetizer, and sit outside under the covered awning to ponder the strange paintings on the tables. Don’t expect to wait around too long for your food. Despite the fact that hordes of people fill up Après Diem every weekend, they have quick and friendly hostesses. You can expect dining here to set you back about $10 to $15 per person. Their hours of operation are as follows: Monday-Thursday, 11:30am-12am; Friday, 11:30am-2am; Saturday, 11am-2am; and Sunday, 11am-12am.

Whether you want to walk off the food you just ate at the Après Diem, or you just want to take an evening stroll with friends,
Piedmont Park is right across the street. At approximately 185 acres, it’s Atlanta’s largest park. Piedmont hosts a plethora of cultural events every year. Visit on any Saturday morning between May and October to take advantage of the Green Market, where locals come to sell fresh foods and art, listen to live jazz, walk the dog, and get a taste of what Atlanta is really like. While you’re there, take a free, guided tour of Piedmont by heading over to the Visitor’s Center between 11am and 12:30pm. Fall is the best time to visit Atlanta, when the heat ceases its excruciating wrath, and in October, Piedmont hosts other cultural events in addition to the Green Market. On October 7th, “Atlanta Celebrates Photography” welcomes photographers of all ages and experience levels to share their work in the Bathhouse to compete for prizes. Also on the 7th, the Harvest Midtown Festival highlights wines from over 150 producers worldwide and Atlanta’s finest restaurants. Entertainment includes live music, an artist market, and all-day fashion shows. Tickets are $50 in advance and $60 at the door. Admission includes all-day access to the festival (including food and wine tasting), entertainment, and a complimentary wine glass.

After all that activity, you’re going to want to sit down and relax. Right across the street (again) sits the
Midtown Art Cinema, right next to Après Diem. Whether you want to see Hollywood’s latest blockbuster, or you have a taste for something independent and off-the-wall, this theatre’s perfect. Purchase your tickets outside, then let the attendants, who are friendlier and less drab than typical theatre employees, take your tickets and show you the way. Grab a beer or a fresh pretzel at the concession stand, and gawk in fascination at the collection of rare movie posters adorning the walls. They have a French poster for the movie A Clockwork Orange that I’m craving to have grace my apartment. Once inside your designated theatre, you’ll notice it’s a bit small, but not at all cramped. While the Midtown Art Cinema doesn’t have stadium seating, their seats are designed for the optimum viewing experience, no matter how tall the head in front you is. If you can’t sleep or you’re just out partying, come by the Cinema. They offer a discount for a movie’s last showing of the day.

There of all the places to visit in Atlanta, few offer as many activities and attractions as Midtown. Most of these are within walking distance of one another, so you don’t have to waste your time fighting the notorious traffic. Midtown also has a lower panhandler rate than most other districts, like Downtown. Plenty of other delicious restaurants and stimulating attractions reside in Midtown (like the High Museum of Art and the Atlanta Botanical Garden), but there’s just too many to name them all.


Additional resources:
Midtown on Wikipedia.
More photos of Atlanta.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

SurveySpot: The Best Paid Survey Site - Ever


It seems like people these days want free money to just be handed over to them on a silver platter. Hundreds of spam messages with their “make $5000 a day doing NOTHING!!!” schemes attempt to sabotage our inboxes everyday. I don’t know where I would be without my bulk folder to protect my eyes and my sanity from these “lucrative” business plans.

Not that there’s anything wrong with wanting to earn pocket money by doing very little work. That’s what focus groups and online survey sites are for. I’ve never attended a focus group myself (I plan to), but they seem pretty legit. However, a lot of survey sites don’t always stick to the nice little words that drew you into signing up for them. Some only send survey invites once a month that are worth a few measly points. It could take years to benefit from one of those companies. Others don’t pay you at all or take their sweet…time to send your money. Does it really take eight weeks to write out a check? I doubt it.

When I signed up for SurveySpot earlier this year, I figured I had nothing to lose. It was free to register, and I could cancel at anytime, so what the heck. I had no idea how incredibly beneficial this survey site could be. Within two months, I had $100, and I got it in only two weeks. Ecstasy ran through my veins.

SurveySpot works just like any other survey site. You sign up, and they send you survey invitations that match your demographics. Unlike most other sites, however, SurveySpot sends you invitations at least twice a week, and half of them pay $2-20 apiece. That’s almost as sweet as Blue Bell Rocky Road ice cream. You can also sign in to the website and check other surveys available (these are updated constantly). Even if you don’t qualify to complete a survey, they still enter you into a sweepstakes drawing. I’ve never known anyone who actually won a sweepstakes, but sometimes making money means being a little optimistic.

Let’s say you signed up for Spotty and completed a paid survey (there is usually a page at the end of the survey that tells you if you qualified to receive payment). The survey terms indicate that it takes between two and six weeks for your account to be credited. It usually only takes (at most) three weeks for my payments to be added. They even list all of the paid surveys you’ve taken plus all the payments that have been made to you. Keep reading; this gets better. SurveySpot only requires you to have at least $5 credited to your account to request a check. You could request your money as soon as it reaches minimum payout and have gas or cigarette money for the week, but I like to horde my savings for a rainy day.

Check it out, sign up, and let me know how Spotty is treating you.


Join SurveySpot.


Reviews of other popular survey sites.

Don't like survey sites? Find a focus group near you.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Associated Content: Another Venue for Freelancers


I recommend AssociatedContent.com to those of you freelancers and videographers who would like to actually be paid for your work and not just feed off of ad-clicks.

AC refers to its creative geniuses as "Content Producers," and they can produce content on just about anything. Travel, technology, animals, opinion pieces, how-to guides, reviews, even poetry and prose are considered for submission.

Here's how to make money from AC: Once you've signed up, read the FAQ and the guidelines, both are incredibly helpful. If you are submitting a text article, make sure it is as error-free as possible. If there are too many errors, it's dumped. When you're ready to publish text or video, make sure you select one of the two "Monetary consideration" choices. If you give AC exclusive rights, you could make more money, but that also means you can't publish it anywhere else because they own it.

The biggest downside to this system is that it takes a little while (five to six business days) for the Content Managers to approve works submitted for payment.

You can also submit content and opt not to be considered for payment. This option allows your work to be published on the site in a much shorter time period.

So far, I love this site. It's a great place to read intelligent and informative articles by talented writers and to connect to others with similar interests. AC also has different competitions (best AC sticker placement, most referrals) with cash rewards.

The Truth About Truth: The Anti-Smoking Propaganda


Truth, the anti-smoking campaign that has been around for some years, unleashed a new fury of misinformed advertisements titled “WHUDAFXUP?” The new series of commercials stick with the agenda of educating children and parents on the dangers of cigarettes and the misdeeds of the companies produce them. The original series of Truth highlighted important statistics and facts, and then presented them in such a way as to make the viewer think “whoa.” However, the creators of “WHUDAFXUP?” seemed to have stretched themselves a little too far in an attempt to find new ways to convince the public of the hazards of big tobacco companies and their products.

The “WHUDAFXUP?” campaign focuses on decades-old marketing and research documents obtained from big tobacco companies. The creators pick out specific facts that they can easily manipulate on-screen with unlikely scenarios performed by the “WHUDAFXUP?” spokesperson, Derrick.

The latest commercial (and by far the most misinformed) starts by saying that big tobacco companies create fun, fruity cigarette flavors, while insisting that they are not marketing to children. To “prove” his point, Derrick goes to a park and sets up a brightly painted lemonade-type stand with words like “Mocha Taboo” and “Midnight Berry.” It’s no surprise when several children, and no adults, approach him.

The most misleading piece of information offered by Truth and “WHUDAFXUP?” makes viewers think that big tobacco companies massively advertise to children. How is that possible when tobacco is prohibited from being advertised on television, possibly the biggest source of information for children? In addition, tobacco ads are rarely seen on billboards or on the Internet. The only sources left for big tobacco are magazines, and there is no way a children’s magazine would allow tobacco ads to grace its pages. So just how are children finding out about fun, fruit-flavored cigarettes? WHUDAFXUP.

A trip to the “WHUDAFXUP?” website leads to even more inaccurate propaganda. One feature of the site feeds off the claim that a tobacco company alleged that milk was more hazardous to an individual’s health than cigarettes. The site prompts its viewers to ask their lunch ladies if they agree with the claim, and then add their answers to the website. Most of the answers disagree with the claim because milk is generally considered healthy. However, other answers point out the obvious: the site did not specify whether it meant whole or skim milk. Whole milk is loaded with fat, which contributes to heart disease, obesity, and high-blood pressure, all of which are some of the biggest health problems faced by the United States. Truth and “WHUDAFXUP?” seem to be incredibly concerned about the health of the public, right? However, they have no campaign that addresses these issues or others that are equally harmful.

If tobacco companies are limited in their advertising sources, then what is taking up all the marketing space left behind? Just turn on the television and surf the channels for a few minutes; it’s easy to figure out. Commercials featuring people having fun, dancing in clubs, surrounded by bright colors and lights, and holding a drink in one hand. Alcohol is everywhere: television, magazines, billboards, radio. They couldn’t possibly be marketing to children and teenagers. Kids don’t like to have fun and dance with friends while colors and lights blanket their troubles.

Smokers don’t crash cars or engage in risky behaviors because of a nicotine rush. Cigarettes don’t cause broken homes or make people commit domestic violence. Smokers don’t end up on the street because they spent all their money to get a rush. Alcohol is easily more dangerous than cigarettes. Where is the campaign against alcohol advertising?

This is not to say that smoking is good for anyone. It does have its risks: emphysema, cancer, fatigue, and heart problems, just to name a few. Almost everyone knows about the dangers of smoking, from the Surgeon General’s warning neatly printed on every box of cigarettes to the original Truth commercials. However, the “WHUDAFXUP” campaign seems to be running short of ideas to convince people of these hazards. It poorly disguises its propaganda as a trendy new anti-smoking agenda seeking to make big tobacco look like fools. Maybe “WHUDAFXUP” is the fool for using propaganda to wage war against big tobacco’s propaganda. Someone should let them know you can’t fight fire with fire.

Urban Dictionary: The Source for All Your Slang Needs

How many times have you been talking to someone (via the Internet, face-to-face contact, or the phone) and heard a word whose meaning confounded you? I don’t mean talking to just any person or hearing some word that person used to make you feel illiterate. I mean talking to a member of the youth culture and hearing him or her drop a piping hot slang term from his or her electric-oven mouth.

Of course, to be “hip,” you cannot simply ask what this alien word means. You would immediately be coined (either directly to your face or later as the hipster gossips about your cultural ignorance with fellow hipsters) an “uncool wannabe.”

Fear no more. With the help of UrbanDictionary.com, your uncoolness can remain between you and your deteriorating ego. From A to Z, virtually every slang term from today to thirty years ago is alphabetized and defined for your cultural pleasure. Some terms have photographs and sound clips, while new terminology is added daily to ensure your understanding of growing trends. There is even a mailing list to receive the Urban Dictionary Word of the Day to build your vocabulary one day at a time.

Like with all things too good to be true, there are some drawbacks to the site. Because all definitions are submitted by others who are not always as knowledgeable on slang as they wish to be, a plethora of erroneous definitions may impede your road to cultural savvy. However, if you strive past these minor hurdles with an unbreakable ambition to be cool, you could just be that raging hipster the others wanted you to be and correct the definitions of newbies who were once just like you.