Questions About Store Credit Cards, Laundry Soap, Personal Loans, Speed Reading and More!

What’s inside? Here are the questions answered in today’s reader mailbag, boiled down to summaries of five or fewer words. Click on the number to jump straight down to the question.
1. Just opened store credit card
2. Cooking site
3. Fiction writing
4. Tips or philosophy?
5. Piecing together car accident
6. Homemade laundry soap and HE
7. Finance with low capital
8. Banking system and government trust
9. Vanguard funds in another 401(k)
10. Personal loans from Upstart
11. Struggling with VA
12. Speed reading

Over the weekend, I did a fresh “brain dump.” It felt great.

For those unfamiliar, a “brain dump” is when you sit down with several sheets of paper and a pen and write down every single undone thing that’s on your mind, whether it’s urgent or not urgent, whether it’s important or not important, whether it’s something you want to do today or something you want to do in a year. You just dump all of those things out of your mind onto paper.

After that, you go around your house and look for other things left undone that you might have forgotten about. Often, the things in your life serve as great triggers. Write it all down.

The goal is to have every possible thing you might want to do in the future written down on paper and out of your head.

Once that’s done, you organize it in some useful way so that you can easily find upcoming tasks. I use task management software for this (currently Remember the Milk).

Why do this? For one, it clears out your brain so you can focus better as undone tasks don’t distract you. If anything new pops into your head, you just write it down and keep on trucking on your task at hand and you don’t have to worry about it at all. For another, it makes for a very effective to-do list.

For me, doing a fresh “brain dump” every few months helps make sure that things aren’t slipping through the cracks of my life. It also helps a ton with keeping my mind focused, especially in the week or two right after the “brain dump.” I highly recommend it!

Q1: Just opened store credit card

I just opened a credit card at a store I never shop at. I regretted it immediately. I didn’t use it to make my purchase today. I just don’t think it’s smart to have it, but I also don’t know if it’s smart to close it. Please help!
– Nina

If you already have another credit card that you’ve had for longer than this store card and you have no intent of ever using the store card, it’s fine to cancel it. You might see a small short-term negative drop in your credit score, but it’s likely not big enough or going to last long enough to have any kind of negative impact on your life.

In other words, I really wouldn’t sweat it at all. I don’t think you made a big mistake by doing this.

If you’re unsure, ask yourself this: are you ever going to use this card? If the answer is no, then just cancel it. It’s better than having yet another window to identity theft sitting out there.

Q2: Cooking site

You mentioned starting a cooking-centric site. Did you ever do this? I find that I always enjoy the recipes that I find on your site. I also agree that cooking at home is one of the top money savers that a household can do.
– Maxwell

For a long time, I considered starting a cooking blog, but as you noted, cooking is one of the biggest money savers that a household can take on, so I channeled some of the ideas I had for a cooking blog into The Simple Dollar for a while.

The biggest output from this effort was a weekly series I did for most of 2011 called “Dinner with my Family,” which you can check out here. It mostly consisted of meals that our family actually prepared and consumed. I chose meals that were interesting and inexpensive.

What I found was that I wasn’t as interested in some of the aspects that would make a successful food blog, in particular the photography of it. I didn’t really want to make “perfect” platings or other things – I found it far more interesting to show our real kitchen at work. Unfortunately, a lot of people didn’t like that as well, as they preferred the perfectly-lit perfectly-arranged photos one might find in a food magazine or on a devoted food blog.

So, my passion for food blogging is mostly constrained to the occasional food post on The Simple Dollar. I think that my interest in writing about food is better channeled in that way.

Maxwell had another question in the same email.

Q3: Fiction writing

You mention some fiction stories that you are working on. Did you ever publish any of these? I’d like to read them if you have.
– Maxwell

I am very, very picky about my fiction. Most fiction that I write ends up never being shown to another living soul. I have sent exactly three pieces of fiction out for publication and none of them have ever been published.

My problem with fiction is that most of what I write doesn’t feel very meaningful to me. It’s just characters doing things and I find myself not really caring about them. When I do write something in which I care about the characters and find something meaningful in it, I’ll read it again later and find that it’s too heavy handed in terms of the philosophy and ideas behind it.

Honestly, I think that most of the problems I see could be ironed out with adequate time, but finding adequate time for it is a real challenge.

Another problem is that the one piece of fiction I’m most proud of is a thinly-veiled look at several people I know that isn’t very flattering in a lot of ways. I would be hesitant to publish that material because of the potential blowback from doing so.

Maxwell had a third question, too.

Q4: Tips or philosophy?

In comparing your old articles to some of your newer pieces I’ve noticed a shift from the basic “Here is a good money saving tip” to an almost philosophical nature of how to approach things that also tangentially relate to saving money. I find that I enjoy these articles a lot more. A lot of the basics: buy generic, cook at home, spend less than you earn, etc has been covered ad nauseam so I enjoy these articles on mind set and thought process. I know in one recent article you mentioned how you are auditing online classes and self teaching yourself. I would be really interested in a course outline or readings list and more discussion on how you are doing this.
– Maxwell

When I first started my financial turnaround, I really dove into the specific money-saving tactics. I found those ideas really useful when I was getting started.

After a while, though, it became clear to me that the part that really kept the ball rolling was mindset and psychology. If you don’t have your head in the right place, all of the money-saving tactics in the world won’t help you. What matters most is having the right mental perspective and attitude about money and about your career, because without those you’ll never succeed financially.

These days, I try to balance both kinds of articles. If I write something fairly philosophical, I try really hard to pin it down to actionable things that people can do in their lives to improve their financial or professional situation. And sometimes I do write tip posts because, honestly, they can be useful, even if the tips are familiar.

All I can really do is write about the financial and professional topics that I find useful and valuable in my own life. If I wrote about things that I wasn’t practicing or thinking about in my own life, it would quickly lose the passion and the personal aspects that I think sets my writing apart from the crowd.

Q5: Piecing together car accident

I had a 1996 Hyundai Accent mint condition. It was totalled. I had loyalist insurance, it was my daughter-in-law’s fault, it was towed. The person who hit her (there was no damage), they were concerned about my daughter-in-law who was expecting at the time. Just who got paid? I saw nothing from no one only thing I signed was my title over to the place where it was towed. Help to understand.
– Kevin

From what you described, it’s likely that the person who hit your daughter did not make any sort of insurance claim in the accident. After all, their vehicle wasn’t damaged and they were not at fault.

If you did not make an insurance claim, then it’s likely that the insurance didn’t pay out anything. I’m not sure why exactly you signed over the title of the car to the place where the car was towed unless their bill was in excess of what you could afford to pay out of pocket.

My impression here is that the insurance company was never informed of the accident at all and thus had no reason to contact you. Typically, after an accident, you should contact your insurance company; if no one contacted them, then they have no reason to be doing anything.

However, if that’s the case, I’m puzzled by why you signed over the vehicle to the car repair place. I can only guess, but was the car already in very poor shape to begin with and it was less expensive to repair the car than to just get rid of it? I’m honestly not sure.

Q6: Homemade laundry soap and HE

Can the homemade laundry detergent be used in “HE” machines?
– Nancy

The recipe I use, which is one cup of borax, one cup of washing soda, and one cup of soap flakes (either out of a bag of soap flakes or grated yourself), does not create very many soap suds in a load (I use one spoonful per load), so I can’t imagine that it would cause a problem in an HE washing machine.

I do not own a HE washing machine, however, so I went looking for people who did use such a recipe in a HE machine. This article uses virtually the same recipe that I use and it indicates that such a recipe should be fine in an HE machine.

I’d give it a try. The worst thing that could happen is that you have a load that foams up excessively, giving you some soap suds to clean up. However, I really don’t think that will happen in an HE machine.

Q7: Finance with low capital

How can I start a insurance and finance company with low capital? Please tell me the process.
– John

If you’re looking to actually start an insurance company in which your company actually provides the insurance, you’re going to need a lot of capital unless you’re essentially running a scam. If you don’t have enough capital to handle a lot of claims, you’re going to be in a very bad situation. I would not start any sort of insurance company without having a lot of capital.

Now, if you’re talking about starting a small business to offer financial planning advice or to sell insurance, that’s a much different situation. This article offers some great advice on starting an insurance sales business, for starters.

If you’re looking to lend money to people, you can do that on your own through sites like Prosper with whatever level of capital you have. Prosper provides the business structure for you, in other words; you merely provide the capital for the loan.

Q8: Banking system and government trust

I would totally agree with what you are saying except, What about the Computer agenda you know the NWO is calling for all money’s to be accessible through Microchipped Credit Cards and microchipped humans. If the Government takes this approach and you do Not want to cooperate with this banking system then you would wish you had gold and silver because they would have the power and control to turn off your accessibility to your own accounts ? Then what will you do?
– Mark

First of all, I was hesitant about whether to include this email in the mailbag because of the mention of “NWO.” For those unfamiliar, “NWO” refers to the rise of or existence of a singular totalitarian world government. My belief is that NWO theories fall prey to the furtive fallacy, which means that followers of the theory use hindsight of historical events to apply a strong sinister perspective to them.

Although I’m not really in agreement with some of the more conspiratorial leanings of what is being said here, you are expressing a real concern when it comes to biometric access to your funds. If you’re not dealing in physical currency or some other goods that can be traded, you open yourself up to the possibility of a government or corporate entity closing off your access to funds, whether for legitimate reasons or otherwise. There are even innocuous reasons why you wouldn’t be able to access your funds, such as internet outage.

However, I think the best response to this isn’t to have bars of gold under your bed. I think the best response to this is self-sufficiency, because self-sufficiency is useful whether or not such events occur and you don’t have your funds tied up in a volatile and risky asset.

If this is a real concern for you, I encourage you to make investments in making your home/homestead as self-sufficient as possible. Install solar panels. Learn how to produce your own food. Grow a nice garden and save your seeds. Stock up on essentials that you might need down the road. Those things are good strategies for financial independence as well as a good response to concerns about biometric identification.

Q9: Vanguard funds in another 401(k)

My boss is rolling our 401k to Merril Lynch. I have to meet with a rep with them next week. Can I go thru them to get into Vanguard index funds?
– Jim

Typically, a 401(k) offering from an investment firm offers only a certain handful of investment options selected by the firm. My guess would be that a Merrill Lynch 401(k) would not include Vanguard funds in their 401(k) offering, though I could be wrong.

Having said that, the 401(k) may offer a self-directed brokerage option, which means that you could use Merrill as a brokerage to buy ETFs of Vanguard funds. This would essentially let you buy into those funds, but it will likely cost you an additional fee (paid for within your 401(k) money).

This is one of the reasons why, if your employer isn’t offering matching funds on your 401(k), it makes more sense to start an IRA of your own, whether it’s a traditional IRA or a Roth IRA. That way, you can choose which investment firm you want to deal with and you usually have a much wider array of investments to choose from.

So, my advice to you is to check with your employer and see whether or not they’re offering you a match on your contributions. If they are, just choose the best of what your 401(k) makes available. If not, then start up your own IRA directly with Vanguard.

Q10: Personal loans from Upstart

You may have seen the stop on NBC Nightly News regarding the company Upstart that specializes in giving people with a college degree and a good career track a personal loan.

I looked into this because I have around $7,000 in credit card debt and student loans. I did a preliminary application and was preapproved for a $7,000 at an interest rate that was 10 point lower than my current credit card interest rate.

My questions is: do you think it’d worthwhile to take out a loan with a company like this? This loan will lower my month payment by about $40 a month but will also allow me to pay the debt off faster due to the lower interest rate because all of my monthly payment won’t be going towards interest. The other issue is my husband and I are considering buying a house in the next 6-12 months so should I be worried about the affect the loan will have on our ability to secure a mortgage?
– David

Since I don’t know the exact formula for calculating FICO scores, I can’t be sure how this type of personal consolidation loan would affect your credit score. Having said that, my guess is that this type of loan will have minimal impact on your credit score. If you keep your bills paid up and don’t have an excessive amount of debt, I don’t think this will hurt you in the least. If anything, it will probably help you if you go to a lender who does manual underwriting (meaning they actually review your credit report manually rather than just trusting a credit score).

Aside from the credit score issue, a personal loan – whether offered by this company or by a local credit union or another source – that consolidates your debts and reduces the interest rate significantly is almost always a good move for the reasons you name. You can pay down the debt faster and spend less money on interest.

I think this is definitely going to be a good move for you. Before you do it, though, I’d suggest visiting a local credit union or two and see if they can offer you an even better rate on a personal loan.

Q11: Struggling with VA

My husband served 4 yrs airforce good discharge yet VA won’t pay for meds and IRS took refund for the debt. He is on SSI because VA refused to acknowlege case. Ammunition specialist & loaded nuclear bombs hearing loss none in one ear screeching sounds in other & this is documented. It gets worse every year driving him insane. What can I do?
– Denise

It sounds like your husband suffers from tinnitus, something I’m definitely familiar with. I’ve had it since I was a teenager. I have good days and bad days with it. I’m also deaf in one ear, so I know pretty clearly what your husband is going through. It can be hard at times to have a roaring sound in your ear and it’s even worse when you can’t hear well to begin with.

I don’t know exactly what you’ve done in terms of contacting the VA for assistance. For requesting assistance related to hearing loss, you need to write to them stating that you are seeking service connection for hearing loss and include medical records demonstrating the problem. You need to make your claim as easy to approve as possible. I recommend submitting a Fully Developed Claim, which should be easy if you have documentation of his problems.

Again, I don’t know exactly what you’ve already done. If you’ve already done this, you should look into filing an appeal. Here’s information from the VA on the appeals process.

Q12: Speed reading

Have you ever looked into speed reading? Do you consider it a useful thing? Seems that reading fast would be really beneficial.
– Carson

I’ve dug into speedreading before and I’ve found that it offers one real benefit. If you learn how to do it properly, it disconnects your ability to read to yourself from subvocalization.

When many people read to themselves, they hear a voice in their head that’s essentially reading the words they see out loud in their mind. So, when they’re reading, they move along at the same pace that they would if they were reading aloud.

That’s perfectly fine, but it’s not particularly fast. Learning how to turn that off and process words without that vocalization makes it easier to read faster and still absorb the meaning of the text.

However, there’s still a limit on how fast you can read without losing comprehension. People who see big jumps in reading speed are usually getting them because they broke that “voice in their head” habit and then quickly found their natural reading speed with good comprehension.

I learned how to read without that “voice in my head” when I was a teenager, so I didn’t find speedreading training to be that useful. However, for people breaking that “voice in your head” habit, it’s very useful.

Got any questions? The best way to ask is to follow me on Facebook and ask questions directly there. I’ll attempt to answer them in a future mailbag (which, by way of full disclosure, may also get re-posted on other websites that pick up my blog). However, I do receive many, many questions per week, so I may not necessarily be able to answer yours.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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