Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Getting a credit report

Instructions for getting your free annual credit report.

Per federal law, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit bureau from each of the three leading credit reporting agencies once a year. This report comes in addition to any copies you may receive through your bank or other methods. It is important to remember that each credit agency (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) collect and present their data slightly differently. You never know which of the three will be used to decision a future credit evaluation. For this reason you should get copies of all three bureaus whenever possible.

Benefits of regularly viewing your credit report:

• You can identify and correct inaccurate reporting.

• You can identify and report credit fraud.

• You can identify possible identity theft.

• You can see how banks, employers, and other groups will view your credit history.

• You can make informed decisions regarding how financial transactions, debt, and bills will affect your credit.

To request your free credit report go to:


There are many companies and websites that offer credit bureau services—usually in conjunction with a fee or product trial. Annualcreditreport.com is the only source designated by federal law for you to get your free yearly credit report; so be sure to use this resource regardless of what advertisements may tell you.

Once there, you will need:

• Your social security number.

• Your Date of birth (month, day, year.)

• Your full legal name including middle initial(s).

• Your most recent mailing address (usually a physical street address and not a P.O. Box.)

• An active printer so you can make physical copies of your bureaus

*The site asks several in-depth questions about your residential and financial history in order to authenticate your identity. As such, it helps if you have your last ten years worth of addresses, financial institutions you have done business with, and telephone numbers available. You will be asked to verify a random sample of these items as well as processing a captia numerical challenge (audio challenges are available as well.)

Once you have completed the application, view and print all three of your credit bureau profiles. The website does an excellent job of summarizing the data but provides guides for understanding the material for those who have questions. Be sure to note any inconsistencies—accounts you don’t recognize, delinquent debts that have been paid, bills reporting a balance that were previously paid off…etc.

If you find an item on a report that you feel should be corrected, you can challenge the report through links on the annual credit report website. I recommend contacting the reporting institution (bank, lender, collection agency) to request clarification and correction as well. It is up to you to identify and report fraud and inaccuracies on your credit report.

You will be offered the chance to purchase a view of your current credit score also called your FICO score. This refers to a metric derived from your available credit, current credit usage, payment history, how you compare to other borrowers in the same general category, and a variety of other criteria. The Fair Isaac Corporation uses this information to estimate how risky a potential credit customer you are. Scores range from 300 to 850. In general, a score less than 600 is viewed as very risky, a score of 650 or more is moderately risky, a score of 750 or more is very good, and a score of 800 or more is near perfect. This number is only an abstraction of your credit report at a given time and therefore may not present a completely accurate picture of your credit worthiness. As such, lenders have their own formulas and processes for incorporating this metric into their decisions. For more on credit reports and FICO scores see:


This communication is intended for educational purposes only.

It does not constitute financial advice or a contractual obligation on the author’s part. People wanting more information should seek advice from a certified financial professional.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Projects and Progress

Projects, projects, projects. One of my goals for 2015 is to complete several projects. So far I’m making progress, progress, progress.

Saturday I had a long discussion with the brunette about my obsession with “things.” She was mildly annoyed that every time I get something, I want to buy other things to accessorize or upgrade it. This is an old topic—one I’m not likely to ever truly get ahead on. I like building things. It’s the same instinct that drives me to cook, to run games, to build armies, and to prep. The process of creating and customizing a system is at least half the fun of ownership. To an outside observer it probably looks like I just like owning “things.”—and that’s still true to some extent. The difference is that now I seriously control that urge where as when I was younger I let it control me.

I don’t talk about the stuff I don’t buy because it seems kind of pointless. I used to have a completionist collector’s approach to my hobbies—I wanted it all! As I’ve matured, I’ve begun to focus more on good stewardship. I simply can’t buy “everything.” I don’t have the space. I don’t have the time to support that kind of approach. I don’t have the money to make it happen. As an example, I used to have a robust warmachine collection—everything in the Khador range plus a heavy selection of mercenaries. I had literally everything available to big red—even models I didn’t like very much. Time passed—I sold that army and got out of warmachine entirely. Now that I’m reentering the market, I have a very focused approach. I’m only interested in models that compliment my chosen casters and their theme lists. I also look at how easy it would be to play a given model/unit. As a result I’m ignoring ironfang pikemen, winter guard, assault commandos, gray lords, and their variants. I still buy “stuff”; but my goal is to create a collection that works together and lets me play; not a pile of models that lets me say “I has all the things!”

I’ve done pretty well with warmachine of late. My initial Farrow collection is painted and ready. Pigs are great for me. The model range is small and will probably stay so as a secondary faction. The units are mostly 6 figures or less. There’s a lot of flavor mixed with asymmetric movement and shenanigans. I still have a ways to go, especially with the meat thresher coming out, but I’m good for now. So far I’ve got:

• 3 warlocks

• 5 heavy beasts

• 5 light beasts

• 8 lesser beasts

• 1 solo

• 1 character lesser warlock unit.

The problem with pigs is that I can use every one of their current models. This puts me in a bind as I have other projects to complete. Still left to pick up and get painted:

• 2 units of brigands.

• 3 units of bone grinders.

• 2 units of slaughterhousers.

• 2 meat threshers.

• 2 boneswarms

• A bunch of solos

• 2 warlocks.

I could keep on with this group, but I’ve got a playable army now. I’ve got some model selection. So I’m going to move on to other items until I get some games in or other modeling projects finish up.

I’ve been working for a while to build a legion of everblight army. Conceptually, this is supposed to be my artistic competitive power force. Deathquaker agreed to do some of the project while Corc agreed to the rest of it. I was stoked. Soon after I bought the first models Deathquaker had some scheduling conflicts which pushed the project back indefinitely. Corc took my initial heavy beast pack project and has been sitting on it for months. Some of that is his schedule and some of it is his inability to focus on one thing for more than a couple weeks/months. I hit him right at the end of his painting cycle and have been poking him ever since—hoping and praying for progress. I’m very close to just dropping the entire project. I want to make this force a reality, but it doesn’t look like it’s going to happen—or at least not any time soon. I’m one of those people who likes to keep a somewhat clear to-do list. If Deathquaker isn’t going to be able to handle the project and Corc isn’t going to get me to a point where I can play more than battle box games, then I’ll just farm off the remaining models in credit for other work done. I’ll send Corc an email explaining my situation later this week. Hopefully that will work out.

All that being said, I have some work lined up for Khador. Deathquaker may have some time coming up—not enough to take on my legion project, but some. Squish has dibs on getting his convergence painted—yes, another person to play with. After that I’m considering seeing if she’ll paint up my mounted manowar model, 3 heavy jacks, and 2 variant butcher casters. This is more likely if legion gets tossed as I’ll have even less competing for my hobby dollars. I’m in no hurry to expand Khador. I have a good force as it is and my friends have limited time and resources to play. This is the buildup. This is when I complete some projects before pushing for more table time in the coming years.

Blood bowl, despite only being played twice in the last 12 months, is getting painted and assembled. Last year I bought a dwarven team from a new sculptor on kickstarter. The figures have been sitting in their shipping box waiting for me to get around to them. Last year I ran into a new painter/employee at alternate worlds. He has since become a good friend and is looking for additional work after finishing up my initial Farrow collection. What with the upcoming January gaming outing, I decided that now was as good a time as any to get them done. I kind of want to grab an Amazon team, but with blood bowl competing for space with warmachine and FOW, that’s not a good buy right now. Maybe later if a team really catches my eye.

Speaking of FOW, things are moving along. Jay’s next project after the dwarves will be my motorized early war French horde. I’ll see if I can get him to clear coat my 4th Indians while I’m at it. That will give me 2 fully assembled, painted, and stored flames of war forces—or it will after I buy a battle foam case for the French.

Dragon storm is done, ca-put, finito. I shipped off our cards to a fellow player. He’ll be paying us in installments over the next few months. I’ve got more to say on the subject than will easily fit here. Suffice it to say that as the online community fell apart, Mark’s death put a damper on the game, and I grew away from the managing players, it was one of those things we didn’t have mental, financial, and physical space to maintain anymore. I’m sad to see it go for the sake of all the memories DS gave me. I’m happy to be out from under its shadow though.

The man cave is coming along. I have three of four shelves up, a desk in place, and some basic decorating done. My brother is working on a final heavy shelving unit so that we have enough space for all our games and my hobby products. That should be done around the holidays. I still need to decide on a workstation for firearm projects, especially if I decide to start reloading. Office depot had a nice multipurpose work table, though at $500 I might be better served by something a little more traditional. I still need to get some of our pictures up and build in a radio/preparedness center—though that’s more of a long-term goal.

The kitchen refurbishing is well on its way. Actually, for practical purposes it’s complete. We replaced the microwave, upgraded my pots and pans, grabbed a dehydrator, and picked up a vacuum sealer. At this point I have products to help with things I haven’t even begun to make yet like cheese cake. I have a vitamix on my wish list; but like I told the brunette, that’s more of a want than a need. I’ve consolidated all our Tupperware around a couple styles rather than the hodgepodge we had before. I still need to clear out the freezer and start reorganizing around Beef, chicken, and veggies, but that will come.

Regarding firearms, I finally have a cleaning system I think I can work with. I went through a series of non-toxic products—all of which are sitting on my card table currently. I have Remington’s rubber bore cleaners, a pull through kit, and several bore snakes. I have all of froglube’s products—it just remains for me to sit down with wmtrainguy and figure out how to clean each of my clockwork bullet throwers. I’ve been buying up discounted ammunition in anticipation of the run we’re going to have on any kind of common calibers next year when the election season kicks into high gear. I have a ways to go, especially on the maintenance front, but it’s getting there.

I feel like I’m finishing up more projects than I’m starting, which is good. The brunette is right to question my purchasing habits. I’ve traditionally spent more time accumulating useless stuff than actually using said acquisitions. Now just to keep in budget and on-plan.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The making of an action hero, Punchy time.

I feel like a lot of my health updates center around dissatisfaction with the fitness industry. Well, nothing but positive this time.

Between April and June I’ve gone from an extreme of 298 pounds to 262 pounds. I lost 20 pounds in my last five week cycle. I finished lifting upper body with 2 sets of 6 at 195 pounds and one set of 5 at 205 pounds on bench. I managed three sets of six on military press with 50 pound dumbbells. I’m currently curling 3 sets of eight with a 50 pound bar.

Body-wise I’ve lost 4 inches around the stomach. I’m down to a 44 inch belt. I heard the number but didn’t really appreciate the result until I tried on an old 46 inch Galco sporting gun belt and had to tighten it to the next to smallest hole. Most of my other measurements are down at least an inch as well. My old Wilderness instructor belt is down to its smallest setting. My one pair of 50 inch jeans are too big. I’m avoiding buying new clothes because I don’t want to have to spend money on something I’ll just size out of in a couple months anyway.

The specifics from my last training cycle:

May 19th, 2015

Weight- 282.6

Body Fat Percentage- 36.9

Body Mass Index- 44.2

Arm Circumference- 16 inches

Chest Circumference- 49 inches

Waist circumference- 47.5 inches

Abdomen circumference- 52.5 inches

Butt Circumference- 50.3 inches

Thigh circumference- 25.75 inches

June 25th, 2015

Weight- 262.6

Body Fat Percentage- 35.1

Body Mass Index- 41.1

Arm Circumference- 15.2 inches

Chest Circumference- 46.3 inches

Waist circumference- 44.5 inches

Abdomen circumference- 48.8 inches

Butt Circumference- 48.5 inches

Thigh circumference- 26.0 inches

The biggest part of those wins came from my twice weekly training session. I can push myself hard, but to really test my limits I need someone else to get me past my mental barriers. You wouldn’t think an extra 60 minutes a week would make that much of a difference; but the combination of social expectation, a good trainer, and positive reinforcement made a huge difference—especially when I went home and had to think about what choices I wanted to make. Knowing that someone would be looking at that number once a week made me question choices when I would have otherwise have let things slide.

A less obvious contributor has been my shrunken appetite. Regular readers will remember a couple posts I wrote about running caloric deficits to facilitate weight loss. I’ve cut my daily intake down a good bit. My normal breakfast is a single banana. My usual work lunch is a 100 calorie Greek yogurt. I looked at my daily intake and found that during the work week I only cared about eating a decent sized dinner. Since the research I’ve read says that when you eat is less important than your total daily intake, I started cutting back in the mornings and afternoon. The result has been that while I’m still hungry during the day I’m not “hangry” any more. I still want to eat, but it takes less to satisfy me. This combined with a much healthier menu means I’m eating better and eating less. I hope this means my stomach’s capacity is shrinking too.

Several people have commented that I look like I’m losing weight. This is hugely flattering. Most of those comments lead to a discussion about what I’m doing differently. This is one of those questions that’s hard to answer. On the face of it, I’m exercising more and eating less; but that’s not really what people want to hear. The truth is that getting to this point has been an eight year ordeal involving working on all aspects of my life. Granted, I started seriously looking at getting physically healthy back in May of 2013. There have certainly been some ups and downs since then. The thing is, I think what people are asking is really what did you change a couple months ago that let you lose the weight…but I’ve been changing things for years in order to get to this point. In no particular order:

• Quit drinking energy drinks and soda.

• Got our finances straightened out.

• Started using a sleep machine

• Transitioned to a job with less stress, better hours, and more rewarding work.

• Built up enough working muscle to let me actually do serious exercise.

• Stopped ordering out.

• Started cooking our meals.

• Started cooking healthier meals.

• Started bringing my lunch to work every day.

• Cut my alcoholic intake.

• Started weighing myself daily.

• Started using the fitbit.

• Stopped getting my breakfast and lunch from the company cafĂ©.

• Started using the Indian steel clubs.

• Made going to the gym an unbreakable part of my schedule.

• Joined a boxing class.

• Stopped drinking coffee.

• Cut down my total daily caloric intake.

• Started working with a personal trainer’s fitness class.

• Started using the dehydrator to make my own healthier snacks.

• Began making multiple smaller trips to the grocery store in order to cover more distance.

• And probably some other stuff I can’t recall.

It is difficult to put all of that in a succinct explanation—one that fits into small-talk anyway. The best I can say is that I started fixing small things and after a while all those small things added up to big things. It feels good. The recognition is nice. The lost pounds are nice too. The best thing though is that I’m going through classes and pushing myself harder and harder. No breaks, no rests, just full-on physical effort for thirty plus minutes. I’m not where I want to be yet, but I can get there. I feel good about myself and my ability to do the things I need to do.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Debt! I curse at thee!

When you work in collections, the most important part of any conversation is understanding the customer’s financial situation. Often the person on the phone has a picture in their mind of how their finances look. This picture may or may not have any basis in reality—humans are funny like that.

I collected for a major financial institution for over a decade. During that time I saw the industry move from a free form model to one where every aspect of my interactions was scripted and regulated. That scripting was designed to get the customer to a place where they were reducing their debt with an affordable payment without taking food off their table or the roof from over their head. So I spent a lot of time talking to people all over the U.S. about their financial problems. It surprised me how many customers didn’t understand how debt works. In some cases you could tell they just didn’t like the situation they created for themselves. In other cases, the customer genuinely didn’t “get it.”

Simply put, debt means you owe someone money. The amount borrowed is called the principal. The profit is the interest and fees collected while you are paying that principal back. Those fees are the lender’s incentive to make the loan and their cost of doing business. The riskier the lender thinks the loan will be, the higher the fees. This means that if the lender is paid back, they make a large profit to offset their risk. The larger fee structure also encourages the borrower to pay back the debt faster to avoid mounting interest and penalties—or at least that’s the way it’s supposed to work. In practice many Americans don’t think of credit, especially credit cards, as loans. You can attribute this phenomenon to our growing materialistic focus or the degradation of civic values; but I really think it’s that people aren’t taught what holding debt means any more. How many people do you know with $50,000 in student loans, $200,000 mortgages, or $20,000 in credit card debt? Owing the bank money just doesn’t have the stigma it used to.

My grandfather’s generation grew up mixing canned chili with dog food. They lived through one of the worst economic periods in United State’s history. WWII gave us the boost we needed out of the great depression, but it was a close thing. That experience scarred him. I can remember him railing at the idea of paying anyone interest for anything. Whenever he found a hat he liked he bought enough to last him the rest of his life. He did his own home repairs and ground work. Every vehicle he bought cheap and sold at a profit. He worked his entire life expecting to have to pay for his retirement out of pocket—which he did. He hated debt in all forms because owing money was inextricably tied up with the memory of those dark times.

My father isn’t much different. Maybe it was my grandfather’s influence, maybe it was living through the financial crash of the 1980s, but he saves and pinches every possible penny. My mother and mother in law are always looking for new ways to save a buck. Growing up, Dad budgeted everything. Notably, my parents were able to retire comfortably despite raising three kids and putting two of them through college without student loans. I grew up with the unspoken understanding that if you worked hard you could earn a good living. It might take discipline and sweat, but it was absolutely possible.

Flash-forward to the present and my understanding of how life works has been seasoned with a healthy dose of experience. You can certainly earn a good life for yourself if you are willing to work hard and improve your resume. Of course, the financial landscape of 2015 bears little resemblance to the one my parents negotiated. Part of that difference comes down to changed attitudes regarding debt and credit. Recent generations expect to borrow money to go to college, to buy a car, to fund their lifestyle—all the things that used to be luxuries in days gone by. On average American households have four credit cards revolving a combined balance of $7,500. However, only about half of American households carry credit card debt; meaning the average family debt for those that carry a balance is almost $16,000.00. 70% of 2014 college graduates took on student loans averaging $33,000.00 a piece. The average U.S. mortgage runs $156,000.00. In fourth quarter 2013 the average new car loan was $27,500.00 with those holding subpar credit coming in at a staggering $30,000.00. Used car loans came in at $18,000 on average—I say again, used car loans. Per this article:


“According to the U.S. Census, there are 115.6 million American households in 2010. That means that if we divide the total revolving credit outstanding by the number of households, the average family has $7,630 in revolving debt. The U.S. Census also reports that in 2010 there were 234.56 million people over the age of 18 years old, which suggests that the average adult owes $3,761 in revolving credit to lenders. Across the average household, American adults also owe $11,244 in student loans, $8,163 on their autos, and $70,322 on their mortgage.”

So the average American household holds over $96,000.00 in debt. Note that I said household. Not every college graduate will have a mortgage. Not every car owner will have a credit card balance. The average household debt figure shocked me; but it was the follow-up analysis that really got my attention:

“If we look at total debt divided by the total number of accounts outstanding for that debt, we get a slightly different picture. The New York Fed reports that there are 410 million credit card accounts, which suggests that the average balance on the average credit card in the average American's wallet has a $2,151 balance on it. Multiply that amount by the average 3.7 credit cards that Creditcards.com estimates each person has open and the average American with a credit card owes $7,950 in revolving debt. According to the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank, the average person carrying student loan debt owes $25,745, and dividing total auto debt and mortgage debt by the total number of open accounts for those types of debt, as reported by the New York Fed, indicates that the average American with this type of debt owes $10,392 on their car and $100,197 on their home, respectively.”

You can infer just about anything you want from the above numbers. Some people will see them as good; some will see them as impending doom for U.S. consumers. I see a financial market in which more and more people are borrowing money while the amount borrowed per category continues to skyrocket. All this while the cost of living continues to rise, wages remain stagnant, and there is real concern over what “unemployment” even means any more.

It looks like many people are choosing to finance their lifestyles on the banks' dime. That’s good news if you’re a responsible lender, not so great news if you’re a twenty something looking to buy a house, car, and/or a college education. There are some situations where credit is beneficial. Buying a home is near impossible now a days without bank financing. Sometimes credit cards are the only way to solve a short term problem. College loans let economically disadvantaged youth gain critical skills and degrees. Car loans let you buy your own transportation. Credit, used sparingly, is a valuable tool. The challenge comes when borrowing ceases to be a way to defer short term financial issues and becomes a form of supplemental income. The brunette and I have paid off almost $40,000 in debt over the last 15 years. We incurred some of that helping family, some of it making unwise choices, and some of it was a deliberate choice where the financial cost was offset by long term benefits—and yes, I know how ironic it is that I’ve had to pay back that much debt given my profession. I can say with the weight of extensive personal and professional experience that long term debt is bad—really really bad.

To illustrate this, I’m going to discuss several of the most common misconceptions I hear regarding debt. “I can afford some credit card debt as long as I’m saving for retirement.” According to bankrate.com, the average credit card fixed interest rate is running 13% as of May-June 2015. The stock market returns 2%-6% depending on fund—we’ll call it 4%. So your investments are currently returning a quarter the rate your cards are losing—and that doesn’t take into account late fees and risk based pricing. Worse, credit cards compound their interest monthly, while the 4% figure is a weighted metric assuming your investments compound yearly. That means credit cards are actually losing you more than just 4% investment+13% interest because the interest is calculating in and moving your balance every 30 days—and of course there is no guarantee that your investments will actually pay off but you can be sure your credit card balances are going to be costing you money until the very end.

“I’ll pay off my student loans/afford my mortgage/consolidate my credit cards when my career inevitably improves/I sell my house for a profit/this thing I’m working on finally pays out.” I hear this a lot, especially from people like mortgage brokers who rely on commission. There are certainly situations where it’s reasonable to carry some debt with the expectation that all accounts will be paid off once ‘X’ happens. The challenge is that for most people ‘X’ is far from certain. Assuming ‘X’ will happen because historically it always has is betting your financial future that life is reliable and predictable. There’s a temptation here to succumb to wishful thinking, a temptation that is as compelling as it is self-destructive.

“I can afford to buy this on credit because it is an investment.” We’ve already discussed how you’d need at least a 14% annual return before any “investment” would be financially viable re-credit card debt. There are some investments like college that can actually pay out long term. This comes down to a sense of scale. Is the investment going to increase your income to the point where you’ll be able to pay it back, /realize a profit before interest, minimum payments, and fees make life financially unpalatable? If you graduate college with a degree you never use, $40,000 in loans, and no job prospects how much of an investment is that sheep’s skin? Be very sure you know the answers to these questions before signing on the dotted line.

“It was totally worth putting that purchase on credit; Look at all the money I saved!” Say I want 6 eggs. A dozen eggs is $0.20 per ovum while the half dozen is $0.25 each. The 12 pack costs me $2.40 and the 6 pack costs me $1.50. Buying the 12 pack gets me a better per-unit rate, but I still end up spending $.09 more than I need to. You only save money you don’t spend. Don’t get me wrong, I think comparison shopping, coupon clipping, and unit pricing are highly undervalued skills in today’s market—especially when it comes to daily essentials. My point is that money spent is money spent. People should be looking at the end result rather than the bragging rights on their discount.

I recently spoke to a group regarding credit and finance. I tried to articulate that debt is a contract, an agreement, a Burdon—something to be avoided unless absolutely necessary. 50 years ago, bankruptcy filings were printed in local papers—publicly shaming those unfortunate enough to have filed. Now, not so much. Credit is the power to buy on someone else’s dime. Debt is someone else’s profit at your expense. Cultivate the first; avoid the second like the plague.