Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Keyboard shortcuts... for real this time

Over the past few days, I've been compiling a list of my keyboard shortcuts. That is, the ones that I use on a daily basis. Since I sit at a computer a lot each day, it got fairly long. But if you take the time to sift through it, you should be able to glean something worthwhile.


Select all
Move cursor by word
Move cursor by paragraph
Erase the word I just screwed up typing
Close current window
Close document within current window

Click through for the full list.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Keyboard shortcuts

I made a list of helpful shortcuts for a friend. These are basic, but if you know someone who could use 'em, feel free to share:


Select All
New Window or New Document

Switch between programs
Open Start menu
Windows key ΓΏ
Internet Explorer:

New tab
Find on Page

Open a file
Save a file
Move a word at a time
Ctrl+Left (or Right)
Move a paragraph at a time
Ctrl+Up (or Down)
Select text
Shift+Arrow keys

"Ctrl+A" means hold down Ctrl key while pressing the A key.

Get the printable pdf at scribd.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Tax efficiency: a working definition

The other week, I watched (almost; I read the transcript) a little informational video at Vanguard, where I keep some investments. It was tax season, and so I was interested in what they had to say about tax planning, and I happened across this video. I was perusing through, when one of the characters said this:
...tax efficiency is not about minimizing taxes. It's about maximizing after-tax return.
And my mind expanded.

And he's totally right. See, when tax season is imminent, it's tempting to think about minimizing the amount of tax you're paying. After all, paying out that money hurts!

But the right way to think about it is, instead, to maximize the amount of money you're keeping.

Exhibit A: Mortgages. Mortgages are too often touted in the press as entitling one to the "lucrative" mortgage interest deduction. And it's true: for every dollar you pay in mortgage interest, you can reduce the amount of money you're taxed on by a dollar. Sweet, right?

Well, look at the big picture. For those in the 15% tax bracket, you save fifteen cents of income taxes for every dollar in mortgage interest you pay. While this certainly reduces the burden of mortgage payments somewhat, giving away a dollar to get fifteen cents is hardly a winning strategy. (*)

Conversely, if you pay off your mortgage, you do "lose" the mortgage interest deduction, but you also don't have to pay any mortgage interest. Certainly there's still an argument for keeping a mortgage alive when you can afford to pay it off, but it's not the slam dunk often portrayed in the media. Instead, think about it clearly and run the numbers.

Is tax efficiency around minimizing your taxes? It shouldn't be. Think instead about maximizing returns instead, and that will point you in the right direction.

* The real impact of the deduction is to lower the effective interest rate of the mortgage, from, say, 4.0% to 3.4%, assuming that (a) you itemize more than the standard deduction already, (b) you aren't in any credit phaseout ranges, and (c) ignoring air resistance.

Monday, March 12, 2012

My mortgage refinance

A few months ago, we decided to refinance our mortgage. So with the help of the Internet, we quickly identified the going rates at a few different firms. The lowest one by far was First Financial Services, Inc., based in Charlotte, NC. In fact, they undercut their nearest competitor's offer by $1,600, and that offer was already about $10,000 better than those from the big banks.

Nevertheless, I did some sleuthing around and contacted some other lenders. All their salesmen asked what other offers I had, and when I shared FFS's numbers, most of them warned me that "with rates like that, something's up", and that it was "too good to be true". And I admit that I did have my doubts. But after doing some research online, I couldn't find any bad reviews of FFS, so I went ahead and filled out the paperwork.

A month later, we had successfully refinanced our loan, and the total out-of-pocket closing cost was under $1,000. With the interest included in the loan payoff and other "hidden" items, the actual cost was under $500. Keep in mind, this for a loan modification that will save us tens of thousands of dollars in interest over the life of the loan.

I've been meaning for some time to post a positive review online, but hadn't got around to it. So here it is.

First Financial Services really did a bang-up job of addressing my concerns through the whole process. They were relatively responsive to my inquiries, and when there was schedule slippage past the end of the rate lock period (due to high volume at their end), they honorably held to the rate they'd promised. Their e-signing system was convenient and efficient, and they even sent a notary over to our house so we could sign the paperwork at home. Oh yeah, and they saved us a ton of money.

Thanks, guys!