Article 43


Saturday, May 02, 2009

Understanding Credit Utilization


By Jim Wang
May 2, 2009

With the recession, a lot of personal finance experts have started dispensing credit advice. They advise that you never cancel cards because it’ll hurt your score. Do you know why?

While all of their advice is correct, it’s important to understand why it’s correct. It’s better to know why you’re doing something than to just do it blindly. Today I’ll discuss the second most important and one of the most misunderstood aspects of your credit score - credit utilization.

Credit score savvy consumers probably know that your FICO credit score is based primarily on five factors:

Payment history (35%)
Amounts owed (30%)
Length of credit history (15%)
New credit (10%), and,
Types of credit used (10%).

Credit utilization is one part of “Amounts owed” factor but it’s an important part, it counts for 20% of your score. Credit utilization is a simple equation and measures how much of your available revolving credit is being used each month. Divide the sum of your account balances by the sum of your account credit limits.

An important and often misunderstood aspect of credit utilization is that it doesn’t matter if you carry a balance or pay off your entire balance every month, it’s just the ratio of credit used to credit available. It also doesn’t matter how large your balances or limits are on their own. Only the percentage used is important for this metric.

Why does closing a credit card account hurt my score? It hurts your score because your credit utilization will go up, which is bad. If you have two cards with $500 limits and you charge $250 to one and $0 to another, your utilization is 25%. If you keep your spending the same but cancel the second card, your utilization jumps to 50%. To a lender, you’re a risk because you use 50% of your available credit each month.

What’s a good utilization? A variety of experts say under 10% is best but 30% is acceptable (Motley Fool). In the end, there’s no magic number, the lower it is the better.

So I should apply for a million cards to increase my total limit right? Wrong, because that will hurt you in the “New credit” factor more than the lowered utilization will help you.

So, keep your utilization low, your credit report accurate, and we’ll be out of this recession in no time!


Posted by Elvis on 05/02/09 •
Section General Reading
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What to Wear for Job Interviews

By Peter Vogt
MonsterTRAK Career Coach

You have a job interview in five minutes. You’ve learned everything about the company, you’re prepared for any questions they ask, and you even arrived a few minutes early. You couldn’t be more ready.

But when you stop in the restroom for a last look in the mirror, your mind starts racing: “Am I dressed the way I should be for this interview?”

“In an interview situation, you’re marketing yourself as a product, and so you want and need to have the best image possible,” says Amy Glass, a trainer and coach at Brody Communications Ltd. of Jenkintown, Pennsylvania, and an expert on presentation skills, business etiquette, professional presence and interpersonal communication.

Presenting a professional image is more about doing your homework than spending money. So as you prepare for your interview, keep these wardrobe tips in mind.

It’s OK to Ask What to Wear

In many traditional industries, like finance or accounting, business professional dress will be appropriate: A conservative suit, shirt and tie if you’re a man, or a conservative suit if you’re a woman, with—perhaps—personality shown through your shirt or jewelry, Glass says. In other industries such as advertising, public relations, graphic design and information technology, what to wear might be less clear. If that’s the case, Glass says, ask about the company’s general dress policies when you’re first contacted about an interview.

“You can say to the person you speak with, ‘I want to make sure I understand your company culture and dress appropriately,’” Glass notes. “It’s not a bad thing at all. In fact, it shows respect.”

If in doubt, err on the conservative side. “I’ve been overdressed at times, and that can be uncomfortable,” Glass says. “But that’s much better than being underdressed.”

Shop Smart

You don’t have to buy several suits for different interviews at the same company. In many instances, you can get by with one suit combined with what Glass calls a “capsule dressing” strategy—varying what you wear with the suit each time.

“If I’m a young woman and I invest in a nice black pantsuit, I could use that one suit for interviews, but change the shirt, jewelry or scarf each time,” says Glass.

You Don’t Need to Spend a Fortune

Visit higher-end stores, like Nordstrom’s or Neiman Marcus, to look at interview wardrobe possibilities, Glass says. But when you’re ready to buy something and money is tight, head for the outlet stores.

When considering your purchasing options look not so much at the specific price tags on various garments, but at the “cost per wearing,” suggests Glass.

“Suppose you see a suit that’s $150. If it’s a trendy cut and it wasn’t made of great fabric, you might be able to wear it once a month for two years. So your cost per wearing is fairly high. If you buy something for $300 instead, in a cut that will last longer—not trendy but not old-fashioned either, and not screaming the year it was made—your cost per wearing goes down dramatically. So don’t look at the original price so much as how long the piece will be useful to you.”

Don’t Neglect Accessories

If you have leather shoes, Glass says, make sure they’re shined. If you have suede shoes, make sure they’re brushed. And if your shoes are five years old, have the soles redone at a shoemaker. If you have a leather briefcase and it’s still in good shape, now’s the time to use it. If you don’t, a nice portfolio binder will do just fine.

Will all the effort and expense you put into looking the part during your interview make any difference? Absolutely, Glass says. In fact, it’s essential.

“Your image matters because it shows your attentiveness to detail and gives recruiters an idea of how you’ll represent their company to clients, both internally and externally,” Glass concludes. “The visual message you send makes a big difference in how you’re perceived and, ultimately, whether or not you get the job.”


Posted by Elvis on 05/02/09 •
Section Dealing with Layoff
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Selling Out Firefox

The Monetization Dilemma

By Wladimir Palant
Ad-Block Plus Blog
March 25, 2009

There has been a fair amount of discussion lately on the topic of earning money with extensions. Yesterday I read Kent James blog post and only a few minutes later I noticed yet another mail titled “Commercial offer” in my inbox. Now these are typically about some crazy business model they need my help with, usually something along the lines of replacing ads with other ads and redirecting websites income into your own pocket by doing that. Not this time. An employee of a search engine company suggested I add a checkbox to the post-install Adblock Plus page which will add their search engine to Firefox and change user’s homepage to their entry page (all that restricted to the country where they operate). And they would pay me for each change performed of course.

Now I don’t really know why they chose that route given that they already have an agreement with Mozilla. Maybe the employee who contacted me is just unaware of the current state of affairs. Maybe they hope to see results sooner that way (with Mozilla they still have to wait until Firefox 3.5). Maybe they want to do more with that default homepage than Mozilla lets them (from what it seems, Mozilla has rather rigid requirements on default homepages even though they are hosted by search engines). Or maybe they simply expect to get a lower price with extension authors rather than Mozilla. I don’t know and it doesn’t really matter.

What matters is that I don’t know whether every author of a popular extension will reject that offer. I dont want to blame anybody, maintaining a popular extension is a hard and very time-consuming job. There are times where I wish I could turn Adblock Plus at least into a part-time job rather than struggling with finding time to do everything necessary. I know that some other extension developers have their extension as a full-time job and that makes them dependent on money sources. Given the market value of their user base, it is hard not to sell out.

So far, getting money for your work ranges from begging for donations over post-install pages with ads (where some go pretty far to make sure these ads are seen) to showing ads in the extension itself. Now I am afraid that we might see another development that we already know from desktop applications: extensions that change your homepage/default search engine or install unrelated extensions if you aren’t careful enough to opt-out. Yes, I have been asked about recommending other extensions several times as well, and I was even asked whether I would sell the project when I declined.

I would be interested in knowing what you think about it: Is it a real threat? What can be done to prevent this scenario from happening? And maybe we can attract more developers while doing so?



Adblock Plus and (a little) more

By Wladimir Palant
Ad-Block Plus Blog
May 1, 2009

Recently I wrote about how not giving extension developers a good way to earn money MIGHT LEAD TO VERY UNDESIREABLE EFFECTS. The recent events give an impression of the kind of effects we should expect here. This is going to be about the popular NoScriptextension which happens to make its money from ads. And to make sure that somebody sees these ads it goes pretty far. For example, it opens the changelog webpage (full of ads of course) on every single update of the extension, even though the NoScriptFAQ claim that it happens only on major updates (yes, if you dig into it you will find the preference to disable this behavior but how many people do that?). And updates coming roughly each week ensure that this page is opened fairly often. A problem is of course that NoScriptwill usually disable scripting and consequently also most advertising. That problem is being worked around by putting NoScript’ss domains, Google AdSense and a few others on NoScripts default whitelist (again, the overwhelming majority of users won’t go hunting for bogus entries in their whitelist). Given that NoScriptproudly calls itself a security extension this means putting users at risk for example, a while ago I demonstrated how an XSS vulnerability on a NoScriptdomain can be used to run JavaScriptfrom any website, despite NoScript. This was countered by implementing anti-XSS measures rather than removing anything unnecessary from the whitelist.

You get an impression for the business model here. Of course, this approach brings NoScriptin conflict with another popular extension - Adblock Plus. For years, NoScripthas been using a trick to prevent Adblock Plus from working on its domains. Fixing this issue was never particularly high on my list of priorities (though I finally came around and fixed it after the recent events) so at some point I suggested that EasyList should be extended by a filter to block ads specifically on NoScripts domains. This finally happened two weeks ago.

What followed was a small war - the website would add various tricks to prevent Adblock Plus with EasyList from blocking ads, EasyList kept adjusting filters. Then, a week ago a new NoScriptversion was released. A few days later I noticed first bug reports apparently, Adblock Plus glitches were observed with this NoScriptversion, especially around NoScript’s domains (but not only those). When I investigated this issue I couldnt believe my eyes. NoScript was extended by a piece of obfuscated (!) code to specifically target Adblock Plus and disable parts of its functionality. The issues caused by this manipulation were declared as “compatibility issues” in the NoScriptforum, even now I still didn’t see any official admission of crippling Adblock Plus. Clearly, NoScript is moving from the gray area of adware into dark black area of scareware, making money at users expense at any cost.

Confronted with the facts and with the AMO policy NoScriptauthor agreed to revert the changes. However, he put a different solution in place - the new NoScriptversion released yesterday adds a filter subscription to Adblock Plus meant to whitelist NoScripts domains. A note about this feature has been added to extension description on AMO (I insisted), not without misrepresenting the cause of course. Supposedly, this is because of a targeted attack from EasyList which broke functionality. Which fails to mention that EasyList was just doing what it was created for (block ads) and the broken functionality is the result of attempts to avoid ads from being blocked (originally the filters didn’t break anything). So the real reason is not broken functionality, it is the ads on these sites.

Of course, adding a note to the description that almost nobody will read anyway wasnt the only change I wanted to see. Adblock Plus allows other extensions to add filter subscriptions but that wasn’t supposed to happen without users consent. In case of NoScript, asking the user whether this filter subscription should be added was clearly required. But that would probably make too many people notice that something fishy is going on and decline. Note also that this filter subscription cannot be removed (will be re-added on next Firefox start), only disabled. Also, it stays there even after NoScriptis uninstalled. Should I now make it harder for all extensions to integrate with Adblock Plus just because NoScriptis misbehaving? I doubt that this will help much, any installed extension has the privileges to do anything and trying to stop it from misbehaving after installation is a lost cause.

While the current state of affairs (NoScript’s manipulation of Adblock Plus is visible to the user if he knows where to look, it is documented and even reversible) is better than what we had before I still think that extensions manipulating other extensions to prevent them from doing their job is not where we want to be. NoScriptmight be somewhat extreme but the “business offer” emails I occasionally see in my inbox make me think that we will see more of this. Companies start to recognize the potential of Firefox extensions and push extension authors into monetizing their extensions by questionable means at the expense of the users.


Posted by Elvis on 05/02/09 •
Section Privacy And Rights • Section Broadband Privacy
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