What Happens if You Call the Prize Claim Hotline on that Piece of Junk Mail?

Long before there was email, people’s physical mailboxes were inundated with junk mail. Lots of it. Whole forests likely perished supplying the paper for mailings that tempted us with offers from Publisher’s Clearing House, cheap magazines, and the Columbia Record and Tape Club. Records and tapes, for you young people, were— oh, never mind.

Today, the process has been digitized of course and with the added efficiency provided by the Internet, that pile of junk has now become an electronic mountain. One advantage though, is that you can easily choose who sends you offers and what kind, with a few mouse clicks. But the competition is fierce.

Clever marketers have realized though, that the key to reaching their target demographic is through the path of least resistance— old fashioned snail mail. Between 2007 and 2012, according to the New York Times, the amount of physical junk mail dropped by 26 percent. That’s a bummer for the U.S. Postal Service, but welcome news for mailbox owners.

The average person gets far less physical junk mail today, so the odds of standing out are much greater. When you stop and think about it, physical junk mail has a lot of advantages over the electronic kind. Not only is there less competition, but email can be much more easily blocked. The space in which marketers have to operate is much smaller with email as well, at least in the introductory phase.

Physical mail can come in any variety of shaped and sizes, with space available to for all manner of words and images. Email’s first and only impression, is often a mere subject line, usually limited to around 50 characters. That’s it.

Marketers can make a physical piece of mail all kinds of enticing. For example, the one below that informs the recipients that they have won a free Caribbean Cruise. Call the toll free number to claim the prize. Sounds pretty easy, so why not?

Well, for one it arrived pre-sorted, or what is also known as bulk mail.  That just feels sketchy. For most consumer advocates that’s the initial measuring stick. Does it look fishy (as it were for a cruise giveaway), or too good to be true? If so, discard immediately. But what if you call? Dollars and Sense decided to find out.

Thank you for calling

Again, the mailing we got a hold of stated that a Caribbean cruise on either Norwegian Cruise Lines, or Royal Caribbean International had been awarded. With round-trip airfare. Simply call to claim the prize. After waiting for several minutes, and being told repeatedly that our call was important, a representative finally came on the line. She asked for the claim number and put us back on hold for a few moments.

It turns out that the prize is being issued by a company called Endless Access (no kin to Axcess Financial, the company that owns Check ‘n Go). The representative says that Endless Access is a travel agency located in a nearby suburb called Blue Ash. However, a quick Google search returns no local office location for that company. They do have a website though.

The mailing is part of an advertising promotion, and to claim the prize you must only give 90 minutes of your time. During an hour and a half presentation they will present all the different travel services they offer. No obligation, just sit and listen. That doesn’t sound like a scam. Except it is. According to the Better Business Bureau, news reports, and some of the companies mentioned as partners in other mailings like Marriott Hotels, many consumers have complained endlessly about Endless Access.

According to a report by Alex Dunbar of CNY Central (a consortium of local TV stations in Syracuse, New York), seminar attendees are issued the vouchers. The problem is there are hundreds of dollars in fees associated with them, as well as loads of travel restrictions. It’s no wonder that they ask that you bring a credit card, and not a state-issued ID or driver’s license, as proof of your identity.

CNY Central also reports that membership with Endless Access is upwards of $9,000. And that doesn’t even involve any trips. You could go on a lot of Caribbean cruises for $9,000. People show up though. It’s almost like the Internet didn’t exist.

You can listen to the entire call to the prize claim line below or on our SoundCloud page.

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Research and insights for this article were provided by Check ‘n Go.

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The Rise and Rise of the P2P Currency Exchange

Finally it’s starting to look like technology has found a means to subvert the international money exchange system thanks to peer to peer currency exchanges. At present, the sector is one of the fastest growing in consumer finance and offers a wealth of advantages and generally much superior rates compared to the established banks. Even those that consider themselves market leaders in the business of currency exchange are being ever more undercut by P2P currency exchange services; and the great thing is that as this option becomes more established it can only grow further.

So what’s wrong with the traditional currency exchange system?

High street banks have long made a hefty dose of their profits by artificially raising the price of exchange currencies above the international bank exchange rate. Sure every company needs to turn a profit, but banks typically make around 5% of their profits by these exchange markets which were, until now, seemingly impervious to any alternative system. While there are companies that have been overtly set up and marketed to serve companies exchanging large sums at preferential rates, the truth is that even these operators are now being seriously undercut.

How has P2P currency exchange managed to become so popular?

In truth, it’s not just the popularity that is the fascinating issue here; it’s also how quickly the market has developed. Much of this has been down to people and companies becoming ever more willing to ‘think outside the box’ when conducting financial affairs – especially online. You can look at the prominence of alternative currencies such as Bitcoin becoming accepted as a viable (if temperamental) currency, how online shopping and business ordering has become the norm in day to day life and even a sense of frustration at the banks themselves following the crash of 2008.

Essentially the technology has made alternative systems of currency exchange viable, and they have been set up long enough now to prove that the system works.

How does P2P differ?

There’s plenty of in depth articles about the economics of P2P exchange but it’s worthwhile quickly outlining how the system works and why it is so able to undercut the banks. In a nutshell, a P2P currency exchange allows their clients to offer their domestic currencies at their own set rate of exchange and look for people abroad wishing to enact a similar trade – it’s essentially a match-making service. This is conducted under strict anonymity and the funds are managed through the site in exchange for a small handling fee. This makes the exchange of currencies a personal transaction based upon total anonymity, and the rates available can often seriously undercut the banks.

But isn’t it risky doing business this way?

Not at all, and this is one of the main reasons for the successful growth of the system. Not only are transactions all handled by the site itself – the exchange partner who you match with has no knowledge of your banking or personal details – making the site exceedingly difficult if not even impossible to defraud. The transfers tend to lean towards larger amounts for the best rates – making them great for businesses, especially those with international concerns.

Is p2p going to continue to rise?

All indications are that this is the case, especially as trade and lifestyles continue to become ever more internationalised. At present users need to have a bank account arranged in the currency that they wish to transfer funds to – say an account not just in the UK but also one in a Eurozone country to exchange into Euros or the USA to convert Pounds to Dollars. It’s not yet a viable option for personal, low-scale use such as holiday money but can save many thousands for larger transactions that otherwise would just be going towards the banks profit.

There’s no sign of the cynicism that people feel towards banks shifting anytime soon, and instead there’s a very good chance that P2P exchange will become a norm in the future – especially if rumoured services targeting smaller scale users come to fruition.

MidPoint offer a peer to peer money exchange that is one of the best established in this burgeoning marketplace. Take a look at their services to understand just how much P2P currency exchange can save you and your business.

 

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Dream Job for Half Your Salary?

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Would you take your dream job for half your salary? Say you spent your entire career dedicated to a vision. You worked hard and were paid well. You loved what you did. In my case I traveled to some of the most dangerous places on earth and worked on incredible projects that literally saved peoples lives.

When I left Portland for DC just over a decade ago, I had a vision to return as the Executive Director of an international nonprofit organization. When I finally decided to take the leap out West, I was delighted to find the job advertisement for the ED role at Green Empowerment. It was a perfect fit. All I had to do was beat out the several other hundred people who thought they were also a great for the job. I’d done the same before.

I knew the salary would be lower than what I was making in Washington, DC. It is Portland after all. Plus a much smaller non profit. I had already learned the salary scale from someone I had connected with during the interview process, so when I got the initial call back and heard that the salary range was between $60k-$70k, I said without hesitation that I could work with that.

After a long interview process, with external pressures around needing to have the job offer in hand to close the deal on our place in Portland as initially scheduled, I took the offer of $62k with the caveat that my salary would be raised as the organization’s budget grew.

The thing is, this meant that I took an effective cut of half my salary. I was making $109k, plus an additional 13% towards retirement, so a total of $123k annually.

But, heh? This is my dream job after all. It shouldn’t be about the money. 

That’s all well and fine, but there is still the inevitable clash of reality versus dream. While I couldn’t be happier with my position with Green Empowerment, it seems that several months in, the crunch is being felt. When I initially moved out from Washington I had to pay for the expenses related to our move, so I wasn’t as focused at the time on day to day budget aspects.

Now the reality is starting to sink in. I now make less than I did in my late twenties. I have more responsibility than ever, but have regressed ten years when it comes to my salary.  While my salary has been cut, trimming my lifestyle and fixed expenses takes some adjustment.

Would you do it? If you could do what you love and make a difference in the world, would you do it for half the money? I think of all the entrepreneurs out there who go out on a leap of faith, often with no real income to speak of, and know that I will continue to adjust and make it work.

Thanks for any comments on whether you’d take a cut in salary for your dream job.

Cheers,

Miel

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How to Improve the Value of Your Property

340ae2d66543453d908038e55dc2fcd7If you’re selling your home, you’re going to want to sell it for as much as possible (of course). While square footage, location and neighborhood can’t be changed, there are many things you can change that will add to the value of your property. And even if you’re not looking to sell right away, it can be worth it to spruce up your home for your own enjoyment, too. Here are 8 easy, affordable ways to increase the value of your home.

Take care of the front yard. The first thing a potential home buyer sees is the outside of your home. While you can’t judge a book by its cover, first impressions do count when it comes to selling your home. Plant flowers, water the grass, trim the bushes and clean the driveway. All of these little things will greatly improve the outside appearance of your home.

…And the back yard. Most home buyers would prefer a nicely manicured back yard in addition to a landscaped front yard. Putting some money into your back yard, including adding in a deck with Futurewood composite decking, may set your house apart from your competitor’s. Plus, you can enjoy the new back yard deck until the house sells.

Clean or replace the carpets. While home buyers know they can replace the carpets before they move in, they also know how much money this can cost them out of pocket. Don’t let old, dirty carpet stand in the way of a sale. Deep clean it once a week when it’s on the market or replace your carpet if needed.

Keep your house as clean as possible. Similar to the carpets, potential home buyers do know they can clean the house before they move in. But if you want people to fall head over heels in love with your home, you need to keep it as clean as possible. Scrub the bath tubs, wash the interior and exterior of the windows, make the kitchen appliances shine and more.

Upgrade the kitchen. It’s common knowledge that you will get the greatest return for your money by upgrading your kitchen. If you can’t spend tens of thousands of dollars on a full-on remodel, do smaller things such as changing the paint color, adding a backsplash and purchasing stainless steel appliances.

Make your home bright. Bright homes are more appealing to buyers than dim ones with few windows. Open up the curtains and blinds, make sure all the light bulbs are working and turned on and add in extra light where needed, perhaps with an eye-catching chandelier in the entry way.

Staging matters. You want your rooms to look open and spacious, not cramped and boxy. You may need to rearrange your furniture or invest in a few quality pieces you can take with you to your new house. Improving your home décor can actually make a difference in how quickly and how much you sell your house for.

Freshen up the paint. Nothing can be more inviting than a fresh coat of paint on all of your walls. Go with neutral colors throughout, perhaps adding in one or two accent walls, to appeal to a variety of buyers. You can repaint your home yourself or hire a professional, depending on your budget.

As you can see, there are many, many ways to increase the value of your home that don’t have to cost a fortune. Pick one project at a time until your home is in excellent condition and ready to be sold.

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7 Tips for First Time Homebuyers

3e2f5f558c9d443b8748b3b0a47d9f2ePurchasing your first home is one of the most exciting, yet terrifying, times of your life. Most likely, this is the most amount of money you’ve ever spent, by far. Buying a home is not an easy process, as many first-time buyers will come to find out. In order to make the process as smooth as possible, take into account these 7 tips when buying your first home.

Be patient. Homes may come and go very quickly, especially if you’re buying in a seller’s market, where bidding wars may even take place. While it’s easy to get emotionally attached to a home, especially as a first-time buyer, do your best to be patient and have confidence that the right house will come along.

Know beforehand what you can afford. What you can afford and what you may qualify for can be two very different numbers. Prior to shopping for a home, decide in advance how much you are able to spend per month and what type loan you’d prefer to have. It’s very easy to get swayed in the moment, so think long and hard about how much you want to spend before looking at houses.

Comparison shop for the loan. Your home loan is probably the largest amount of money you’ve ever borrowed. Make sure you get the best interest rate and the best terms by shopping around at different banks, credit unions and lenders. Don’t forget to online shop, too. A home loan through Newcastle Permanent, for example, offers awarding-winning packages to suit a variety of buyers.

Decide what you want in a home. It’s a good idea to make a checklist of all the “must-haves” for your first home, and then be flexible. You may be able to get a good deal on a home that doesn’t meet all of your criteria but can be changed to your liking down the line. Have a general idea of what you want but be willing to stray from your desires if it positively impacts your finances.

Think long-term regarding your home. You may only be planning on staying in the home for a few years, but what if the market goes down and you find yourself upside down in your mortgage? Since predicting the market can be an impossible task, think of your home as somewhere you will be for the long-haul. Decide how this affects what you want to spend, the location and what you’re not willing to budge on.

Look at the entire cost of the home, not just the loan. There are factors to consider other than your monthly principal and interest payment, including home owner’s insurance, HOA fees, cost of heating and cooling, distance to work, any repairs that need to be done and more. Mortgage payments tend to be lower than rent payments, which can make owning a home enticing to many if they haven’t considered all of the outside factors, including maintenance.

Put at least 20 percent down. While there are a variety of loans that do not require a 20 percent down payment, it’s in your best interest to put down as much money as possible. This greatly increases your chances of qualifying for the loan, it eliminates the need for private mortgage insurance (PMI) and it gives you instant equity in your house.

While buying a home for the first time seems fun and exciting, there are many details that need to be figured out beforehand. By keeping a level head and not letting your emotions get the best of you, you will find a home you love that suits your needs for the long-term.

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