Friday, June 30, 2006

HSBC increases its rate again

HSBC is what i call an aggressive bank, they work hard to give the best interest rate to their customers. They have increased their rates again (now its 5.05%). Couple of good things about HSBC are (from our experience)

1. Gives the highest interest rate (They always matches or exceeds competitor's rate within a week's time )
2. The online system works without much hassle or downtime.
3. No minimum balance or fees
4.They dont come out with deals for new customers alone. in their world every customer is equal
5. 24 hr customer serivce.

The bad side
1. Painful Fund transfer mechanism. it takes 3 days to transfer fund to or from your HSBC account
2. The design of the website could have been better. after all that is the only interface thru which you interact with HSBC online savings account. So some thought on improving the usability is required.
3. The account setup procedure is werid. First they send the account information in postal mail. then after one week username is send, then after yet another week the password comes!.

Other than that, i have no complaints. All in all, we believe opening account with HSBC has been an excellent decision.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

To choose a broader fund or not?

Its said vanguard offers good index mutual funds with low expense ratios. While that is true, there are couple of things about vanguard that I don’t like. 1. for IRA (roth) you need to keep above $5K and for index fund you need to have atleast $10K in account. I invested the money equally among naesx and vhgex Its been about 3 months now and I am unhappy with the performance of naesx. Vhgex is a more broader fund and I can live with its return. The bigger question is that I hear reports that the bull run is ending. After all it started in 2003 and can not go on for ever. Assuming that the bear is coming, I think putting money in a broader fund would be a better choice. I need to do more research before I make the final call, but I sure am tending towards it.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Too many accounts?

He Said

I think me and my better half are having too many investment account with little money in them. We got 2 Roth IRA accounts, 1 Roth 401K account, 1 ESPP account and 1 normal investment account. By next year we will have 2 401K accounts, 1 HSA account and 1 more normal account. Currently we deal with Vanguard (Roths IRA) and fidelity (Roth 401K, ESPP and normal account). I am thinking on starting an account with share builder too. I am not sure whether it is the right strategy to spread our little money across all these accounts. Only vanguard account seems to have the minimum restriction. Taking heed to the advice dont put all your eggs in one basket, i think we will have to live with these many accounts. The plan for the moment is to use automatic portfolio management except for 401K and normal investment account. For 1 roth IRA i decided to focus on symbol vhgex and for the other maybe total international stock index. roth 401 k would be managed using retirement plan year 2045 fund. My HSA account would most likely be automanaged. Comments anyone?

Monday, June 26, 2006

Health Savings account

My company offers very good health insurance packages including the HSA. I have decided to enroll in the scheme starting next year (yeah, take the risk). In short, HSA concept is to combine an affordable qualified High Deductible Health Plan (HDHP) with a tax-favored health savings account (HSA). The reasons to join include

1. Company provides a contribution ($700/yr for individual)
2. i can make tax deductable contribution of $1200/yr
3. i dont have much health related problems so i think i can afford to take that risk
4. i intend to treat HSA as any other investment account and make the money grow for my retirement medical expenses (which is a long way to go)
5. I still get my free annual checkup, allowing me to check my health conditions every year and decide whether to continue with HSA or switch back to normal insurance.

I decided not to enroll my better half into my HSA account for two reasons

1. Her company provides very good medical insurance
2. i am not comfortable with the amount of risk invovled in putting both of us on HSA.

I will keep updating on how this plan works out!

Monday, June 19, 2006

Car maintenance Schedule

I have a second hand 1999 mazda protégé car which has done 85K. Here are the list of things I do to keep the car in good condition

1. I change oil every 3 months or 3,000 miles. I tend to be flexible on the date, but I don’t exceed the 3,000 mile limit
2. Once every two months or so, I check the engine coolant, power steering fluid, and washer fluid, and add if the level falls bellow full mark. I also check brake fluid, low level of brake fluid is an indicate that brake pads needs to be changed.
3. I take the car for emission inspection every year (required in Bellevue, WA)
4. I do wheel alignment only after the car blanks to the left or right once hands are taken of the steering wheel. i.e I know for sure the wheel alignment is out.
5. Air filter is changed on every 3rd or 4th oil changes (If I see that it is visibly dirty)
6. I look at the tire to see if they look properly inflated during every other gas refill.
7. The radiator coolant is changed every 20K miles or so @ jiffy lube
A shortcut is to take the car to jiffy lube for oil change, they do OK job with filling fluids and checking the tire pressure.

One of the things I didn’t do, is buy all four tires from discount store like costco or sams club. I know sams club offers free wheel balancing and wheel rotation every 15K miles. It’s a good deal.

Other recommended tips include
1. clean the radiator grill every 12,000 or so miles
2. park the car in shade. Helps to keep the paint gloss and lowers evaporation of fuel from gas tank
3. keep a jumper cable in the car, just incase you want jump startup the car
4. befriend a local car mechanic by taking the car to him for repair. This helps the mechanic to know the car and most likely he will recommend only repair that is required.

Driving Tips
1. I don’t drive the car with a/c on unless its hot. I like to drive with windows down and wind blowing into my face. This site ( says Driving without using the car's air conditioning increases fuel efficiency by 2.5 miles per gallon. But driving with windows down should reduce the fuel efficiency but who cares!!!
2. During winter with mild temperatures, Instead of using the heat, I use engine heat to warm the inside of car while driving. If the intake to set to outside air and temperature knob is turned hot, engine heat can be used to warm the inside. Some thing I found using necessity is the mother of invention principle when once in a while, my previous car blower would fail to work.
3. I accelerate slowly and use power brake (lower the gears) when ever I can.
4. I did not speed much. With mazda protégé you cant speed. But going above 60 is bad for gas mileage.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Cross country in $500

I had to do a cross country trip from Blacksburg, VA to Redmond, WA (yeah that company!). In all it took me four days (Thursday, Friday, Sunday and Monday) of driving with 12 hours for 3 days and 8 hours during the last day - 3000 miles in all. It was a pretty uneventful (Thank God for that!). Here are some pointers to cross country trip.

Preparation before the trip
The car
My car is a 80K done 1999 Mazda protégé. Before the trip, I took it to a local mechanic and have it inspected (I had state inspection due). Then opened hood and ensured that all the fluids - engine coolant, power steering fluids, brake fluids and washer fluids are full. At the stopover at my friends place, I changed oil at jiffylube (I change it every 3000 miles), where they checked the tire pressure also.

The person
I had a cold due to seasonal allergy, so went to doctor got pills for the trip. I also went to local Wal-Mart and brought a gallon of water, couple of packs of cookies, a can of peanuts and some cranberry juice. Incase I get stranded at least I got food to eat.

The trip
I planned the trip such that I take a day’s break in Fort Collins, CO. I borrowed my roommate road atlas and decided to do ~750 miles each day for 3 days and ~500 miles the last day. In all two stays in hotel (Columbus, MO and Bosie, ID) and a day at my friends place.

11 refills of gas totaling: $266
2 logging totaling: $168
7 eating totaling: $70
In all $504 to drive across the country. Not bad!