Much Ado About Money

In light of recent jackwagonry put forth by Bank of America (and despite them abandoning said plans), the Hildreths have decided that though there’s pain in our chests we still wish them the best, with a… you know the song. So where do we move our money to?

What follows is by no means a comprehensive analysis. This is a basic comparison based on our financial needs, and it is offered up in the hopes that it will be useful. It is not intended to be sound financial advice.

The assumptions are as follows: we have direct deposit. We will use the debit card constantly, but will make occasional trips to the ATM. We will be paperless as much as possible. Minimum balance requirements stink. And we would like to feel… valued.

These assumptions excluded some banks that would otherwise be considered. For example, TD Bank requires a “low” minimum balance on all their worthwhile checking accounts, and Wachovia/Wells Fargo seems to be following the same path Bank of America is going down. Also, for the two of you reading that don’t know, I live in Greenville, SC, so the available banks depend on that.

Last note: the information on bailout funds can be found at ProPublica. Ready? Then let’s go.

The Status Quo: Bank of America

  • Interest: none
  • Free Checks: none
  • Free ATM Usage: Bank of America only
  • Branches: Plenty
  • Online Tools: Good
  • Deposit Options: Branch, ATM
  • Bailout Received / Returned: $45B/$45B

Included as a point of reference. It’s not bad, especially when you consider the cash-counting, check-scanning ATMs that have saved my bacon countless times. They got a large amount of TARP funding, but to their credit paid it all back. Now that they won’t be charging for a debit card there isn’t an urgent need to switch, but as you’ll see, other banks offer so much more.

The Tracy Jordan: Ally Bank

  • Interest: yes
  • Free Checks: unlimited
  • Free ATM Usage: unlimited
  • Branches: none
  • Online Tools: good
  • Deposit Options: Scanner, Mail
  • Bailout Received / Returned: $16B/$3B

I want to like Ally. I really do. I mean, seriously, withdraw from any ATM, get unlimited checks, deposit from your computer, earn interest. They even offer cash back rewards for using your debit card. So what’s the dealbreaker? The fact that Ally is the bank arm of GMAC, the former financing arm of General Motors. Feature-wise, they’re awesome, but their bailout status doesn’t inspire much confidence.

The Mom and Pop: CPM Federal Credit Union

  • Interest: with $200 minimum balance
  • Free Checks: 3 boxes per year
  • Free ATM Usage: Co-Op Network
  • Branches: a few
  • Online Tools: Barely
  • Deposit Options: Branch
  • Bailout Received / Returned: none

I’ve already got a savings account (and therefore a membership) with CPM, and they’ve been nothing but helpful. I’ve got no qualms about the financial stability of the organization; my hesitations lie in my ability to use them for my day-to-day banking and the quality of their online tools. They’re contenders.

The Bundle: USAA

  • Interest: with $1000 minimum balance
  • Free Checks: unlimited
  • Free ATM Usage: 10 visits/month, refund $15/month in fees
  • Branches: none
  • Online Tools: excellent
  • Deposit Options: Mail, UPS Store, Scanner and iOS app (if insurance customer or have credit card)
  • Bailout Received / Returned: none

USAA insurance is like an exclusive club. The company was formed to support armed services personnel and their families, which I respect. I received my eligibility from my parents who received their eligibility from their parents who were in the military. We currently use them for auto insurance, and every conversation with every other insurance salesperson has died as soon as they found out. It’s that good.

Why the long story? The best features of the USAA bank (deposit from iOS app) are only available to insurance and credit card customers. This wouldn’t be an issue, except that we may soon be forced to change insurance companies due to South Carolina becoming the equivalent of e.coli-infested raw meat in the insurance world1. However, the ability to make deposits at a UPS store almost makes up for this.

The Unexpected: State Farm Bank

  • Interest: with $2500 minimum balance
  • Free Checks: first box
  • Free ATM Usage: unlimited
  • Branches: none
  • Online Tools: yes
  • Deposit Options: Scanner, iOS app, Mail
  • Bailout Received / Returned: none

Did you know State Farm had a bank? Yeah, neither did I. And feature-for-feature, they’re not half bad. They’ve got unlimited where it counts (ATM usage), though their conditions for interest are a little high. It’s hard to judge their online tools; the glimpse I was able to see wasn’t particularly impressive. If we for sure wanted an online bank, they’d be a serious contender, but as it there’s just not enough info out there.

The Tuxedo: South Carolina Bank and Trust

  • Interest: yes
  • Free Checks: none
  • Free ATM Usage: unlimited SCBT, refund 3/month out-of-network
  • Branches: a few
  • Online Tools: yes
  • Deposit Options: Branch
  • Bailout Received / Returned: $65M/$65M

This is the current frontrunner. They offer interest with all of our prerequisites and they have an option for using other banks’ ATMs. They’ve only got a few branches in the area, and only one of them is convenient, and even it is hard to get to (on the second floor of an office building with no clear direction). They did receive TARP funds, but it’s less than 1/100th of what Bank of America got and it was all paid back. Most impressive to me is their graphic design on their brochures and web site: it’s clean, fresh, and classy. While money is not made with marketing alone, the fact is they care about their image more than other banks on this list, and that speaks volumes to me about the kind of approach they take to customer service.

That said, there are some misgivings. The 3 other ATM visits per month is never actually found on their website; that information came from the tellers at the bank. Being able to talk to someone in person is a great asset, but is having one fairly inconvenient branch that much better than having no branches at all? And while their TARP funding is significantly less than most other banks in the area, the fact that it seemed necessary is (only a little) disconcerting.

The Wildcard: Simple

  • Interest: yes
  • Free Checks: ???
  • Free ATM Usage: Allpoint network
  • Branches: none
  • Online Tools: Yes. Very yes.
  • Deposit Options: iOS app
  • Bailout Received / Returned: n/a

If you haven’t heard of Simple (formerly BankSimple), get on the internet. Their approach is a little different: instead of holding your money, they act as a services company that gives you (extremely convenient) access to your money stored at a “partner bank.” You still get FDIC insurance, and all your interactions are with Simple; the difference is more technical than practical. So far, they look beautiful. They promise to have a superior online experience, including being able to see your “safe to spend” balance at a glance.

So why the wildcard? Simply put, there’s a lot we don’t know. They haven’t launched to the public yet, and their website is scarce on details. No word on their partner bank, and it appears that they’ll be using the Allpoint ATM network though that’s not explicitly mentioned on their website.2 No idea on paper checks (will you have to mail them from the site or can you order them?). One thing that is mentioned in their FAQ is that they currently do not support joint accounts, which kind of kills the idea a married couple using it.

What does it mean?!

Not sure. Like I said, this is a comparison based on our market and with our specific needs. If you’re facing a similar decision, I hope you can use this as a jumping-off point for your own research. If you have any issues, addendums, or comments of your own, feel free to send me an email. Personally, I still have high hopes for Simple, but they can’t be a contender until the service matures and gains credibility. To their credit, they know that and aren’t opening the service up until they get things straight. And it didn’t take Square long to get to the same point.


  1. USAA is not writing new property insurance (renters and homowners) policies in South Carolina unless you are a military family. Took me several phone calls to find that out; their website was unhelpful and so were the first 3 people I talked to. We eventually went with Allstate for renters insurance, but when it came time to get a homowners policy, guess what? They’re only writing new policies in SC if you have car insurance with them. See above note on how awesome USAA car insurance is. We eventually went with State Farm, but in order to lower our deductable we need to get car insurance with them as well. 

  2. The Simple website uses the phrases “largest nationwide ATM network” and “40,000 ATMs” multiple times. Google brings up Allpoint as the first non-ad listing. 

The Late Unpleasantness

Have a few brief thoughts on this whole Bin Laden kerfluffle that are too long for twitter, so here goes.

  • At the Phillies/Mets game the news broke in the bottom of the 8th, prompting a spontaneous chant of “USA! USA!” that got the crowd excited and utterly confused the players. Why one of the players didn’t turn around and ask someone in the stands is beyond me (unless there’s an MLB rule against it or something).
  • There’s lots of scripture being tossed around twitter right now. Most of it is a variation of God not taking pleasure in the death of the wicked, but there is also the occasional “when the wicked perish there are shouts of joy.”
  • The most balanced take so far is probably Derek Webb’s:

don’t celebrate death, celebrate justice

And now I should get back to work.

File Sharing Rant

I’ve largely taken a back seat on the whole file sharing debate. However, now that I actually have a self-published work I feel it is time for me to make a public stance. Here goes…

I’m going to have to agree with John Gruber’s assessment of Richard Stallman’s latest essay:

I waver between rolling my eyes at Stallman’s kookiness and admiring his singleminded determination.

In my case, however1, Stallman’s kookiness extends to a large portion of the Free Software Foundation’s philosophies. Above all else, the FSF champions the right to modify and redistribute software. I have no problem with this goal as I will often promote a free or open source program (which apparently are not the same) when it is a viable alternative to a commercial program. I use WordPress instead of ExpressionEngine. I use The GIMP instead of Photoshop. But I use Safari instead of Firefox because I find Safari to be faster on my Mac. In my case, I am willing to give up a “freedom” that I don’t really use (the ability to modify the source code) in exchange for a more pleasant computing experience.

It is Richard Stallman’s opinion on creative works that I find unacceptable2. Never mind that because not all Creative Commons licenses are free he refuses to endorse any of them (he, of course, suggests the GPL). What is dangerous is that he equates creative works such as movies and music with information and file sharing with the general term “sharing.” In doing so, Stallman shows his background as a computer scientist. A program is written to solve a problem; the FSF’s arguments that there are more benefits to releasing the source are valid here largely because the program can benefit from the scientific method. Information wants to be free, and the solution to the problem (the program) is simply another form of information.

A creative work, however, is not simply information. It does not consist of simple facts or present a solution to an established problem. It is, when done properly, a reflection of the author or artist’s heart. It can be anything from a commentary on society to a rewrite of a poorly done movie to an attempt to reconcile temporal existence with eternal life. As such, creative works cannot be held to the same standards as computer programs, and vice versa.

Equating creative works to information reduces the author’s creative expression to its digital format, an act of language that cheapens the work even more than the term content. And distributing digital creative works over file sharing is not simply sharing, it is copying. Like anything distributed over the internet, the digital information is copied, not moved, from one computer to another. Loaning a CD or a book to a friend is sharing, since while one is in possession of it the other is not. File sharing creates copies, so that both are in possession at the same time. While not necessarily the same as theft, this cannot, by any reasonable definition, be considered sharing.

This is not to say I am against file sharing as a whole. There are hundreds of out-of-print and hard-to-find works that can benefit from file sharing in order to preserve their value to society. Also, it can be used by lesser known artists to encourage the viral word-of-mouth growth that is essential to growing a fanbase. This is the aim of Creative Commons, and I am disappointed that a man committed to “freedom” refuses to acknowledge the benefits of such a system.

1 John Gruber may agree with me, but I won’t presume to speak for him.

2 Yes, it’s a Wayback Machine link. The post as linked from the original slashdot article no longer exists.

Next To Godliness

I had a job satisfaction crisis earlier in the week. In reality it was more of a life satisfaction crisis, but a crisis of that kind is usually called a “mid-life crisis” and isn’t supposed to come until you’re 32, not 23. Besides, it wasn’t that bad. In fact, it led to a realization that, while not completely positive, is better than the depths of despair.

This particular crisis was instigated by the realization that I’m spending a third of my time on a project that isn’t mine. I knew that going in. That’s what comes with any job where you aren’t self-employed. Duh. I figured I’d make up for it with my spare time projects like I had been doing in college. For a while I did that, and I managed to get my album out the door in the process. And then it stopped.

Normally around this point I’d say something to the effect of ‘I have no idea why I stopped.’ But now I do. See, I’ve finally realized that I work best creatively in a clean environment. And my room is a mess. But logically it makes sense. Why does my room get in a mess? Because I don’t feel like I have the energy to put things in their proper place. In other words, if my life is a mess, my room is a mess. So if my room is a mess, I feel like my life is a mess and therefore cannot focus my creative energy appropriately.

Right now, my room is a mess. That’s about to change. Brittany, hold me to that.

2008: Time To Grow Up

If I had to sum up 2008 in one word, it would be “woah.” If you could give me an extra word, though, it would be “growing up.” In my personal life (and in some ways the world around me) this year has been about growing up.

2008 was the year I finally had to come to grips with the fact that not everyone I meet or spend time with will like me. And even when I’ve apologized as much as I can (or even farther), other people may still decide not to forgive me (despite what they say to my face). And in the end, what I’m responsible for is forgiving them; anything past that is in God’s hands.

2008 was when I was hit in the face with the fact that the best laid plans of mice and men will quickly come to ruin, especially if God has anything to say about it. Case in point: this time last year I was hoping to get a web development job in Greenville. Between February and April, I shifted focus and ended up taking a .NET programming job in Charleston after being offered my ideal position in Greenville. Crazy, huh?

2008 was when we as a nation finally realized that placing most of our investments in funds and bonds that were so complicated even the best economists didn’t know exactly how they worked was a bad idea. Those funds? They were backed by shaky mortgages. Maybe easy access to credit isn’t such a great idea after all…

2008 was also when we as a nation took another giant step forward in moving past racism. It already says something when people in my generation have to be reminded that racism exists. I know that it is far from eradicated–and this election doesn’t change that–but as a symbolic gesture, the fact that we have elected a president whose skin tone is different from the majority of the population says that it is far less of a stumbling block than it once was.

2008 was when I realized that maybe I had skills other people might want. I thought it would be much more of a struggle than it was to find a job. Yes, I interviewed several places that said I wasn’t experienced enough, but I still received more than one job offer. I still ended up talking to organizations that I never thought would consider me.

And that spilled over into other areas too. See, 2008 was the year I finally got tired of being the odd-numbered wheel. But since I wasn’t willing to try my luck with anyone around me, I signed up for an online dating service. And said so on facebook. And was promptly chewed out by someone I was kinda interested in. See, there were people around me that I was afraid to notice. But when I finally decided to allow myself to think in that direction…

2008 will always be the year I graduated. The year I got my first job. Moved out. Finished my CD. But I will always remember this year as the year I fell in love.

Maybe growing up isn’t so bad after all…

Scientific Voting

Comments like this chicken-or-crap essay pointed out by John Gruber notwithstanding, I’m still on the fence to a certain degree about this election. I’ve appreciated John McCain’s willingness to go against the party establishment the past few years, a reason I’ll be voting for our current senator as well. On the other hand, Barack Obama appears to have a solid technology platform and it’s undoubtable that he’s inspired a lot of people to take interest in politics.

At the end of the day, I want to make an informed decision and choose the candidate that aligns most closely with what I believe. Now, my most closely held beliefs may or may not be held by the candidates; in today’s political environment it’s almost impossible to tell what beliefs are genuine. (Not completely impossible, mind you, but those guys don’t typically win, endorsements or not.) As far as political beliefs go, it’s sometimes hard for me to tell just what I believe. Less government spending is good, abortion is bad, morals in general are kinda… not sure. After this policy and that boycott, I’m wondering how right the “Christian right” really is.

Sounds like a job for… a political quiz! Or rather, several. First stop is The Compass, a several-part quiz that shows where you are on a two-dimensional graph that compares social and financial issues. The postmodernist in me is actually quite proud of my position, but other people are not impressed. And it doesn’t help me pick a candidate.

Enter Glassbooth (found via TechCrunch). They’re supposedly nonpartisan and nonbiased, and I’m inclined to believe it. You first pick your most important issues and then rate your position. What I like most about it is that you have the option of remaining neutral on an issue if you so choose. It then compares how you feel about the issues with how the candidates feel about the same issues, and it gives you quotes and voting records to back it up.

So who am I voting for? Should I really have wondered in the first place? Actually, I’ve got more in common with Obama than the Libertarian candidate. Wonder how I would have compared with Ron Paul…

We Are Hiring… O RLY?

In the spirit of John Gruber I am going to bring the smack to this unsolicited e-mail I was just sent because some company is trolling a popular job search website.

Hi, my name is Andrew W. King and I am the President of United American’s Branch Office Division.

I believe we have a winner for the “Most Obscure Yet Oddly Professionally Sounding Name Of A Company” award!

I found your resume online and wanted to contact you.

If this wasn’t an obvious form letter, I’d appreciate that. But it is, so I don’t.

We are now hiring applicants from a wide variety of backgrounds and we believe you are an outstanding match.

In other words, I have a pulse.

We have immediate openings for motivated individuals like you.

You could tell I was motivated just by my resume? Then you obviously didn’t catch that I’m living at my parents’ house.

First year earnings can range as high as $100,000 for new representatives and management positions are awarded for excellence, regardless of prior experience.

So, if I “award” you the award mentioned above, will you “award” me a management position?

If you are goal-oriented with good communication skills and have a desire to succeed within a company that has a well-known industry reputation for financial stability, quality products and streamlined services, then I would like to speak with you at your earliest convenience.

Rule Number One for Evan: NO SALES POSITIONS I’m sorry, but this is not negotiable. Unless you’re Apple.

We are a part of the Torchmark Corporation.

Found them. Do not want. I mean… really do not want.

Moral of the story: don’t spam. You’re wasting the time I could have spent trolling craigslist.

Maybe

I may or may not have attempted to grill pork on the stove.

I may or may not have set off the smoke alarm.

The local fire department may or may not have been called.

This may or may not show up on my student account.

Maybe.

Update: I did. I did. I did. It won’t.

Limericks Galore

So the genius behind xkcd just opened up LimerickDB. Be warned, many (if not most) are definitely NSFW, but I find many of them quite clever, which I have repeated below.

#286

There once was a buggy AI

Who decided her subject should die.

When the plot was uncovered,

The subjected discovered

That sadly the cake was a lie.

#34

A woman in liquor production

Owns a still of exquisite construction.

The alcohol boils

Through magnetic coils.

She says that it’s “proof by induction.”

#292

A preoccupied vegan named Hugh

picked up the wrong sandwich to chew.

He took a big bite

before spitting, in fright,

“OMG, WTF, BBQ!”

#257

There once was a small juicy orange,

…f–k.

#107

See that lighthouse beam in the sky

That guides yonder ships going by?

My friend shines that beam;

She’s living her dream.

I’m in grad school. I still don’t know why.

#21

There was a young woman named Bright

Whose speed was much faster than light.

She set out one day

In a relative way,

And returned on the previous night.

#282

A programmer started to cuss

Because getting to sleep was a fuss

As he lay there in bed

Looping ’round in his head

was: while(!asleep()) sheep++;

#119

The limerick’s structure somewhat

necessitates eloquent smut.

If you haven’t the time

to learn meter and rhyme,

then don’t write them, you ignorant s–t.

#177

There once was a girl named Lenore

And a bird and a bust and a door

And a guy with depression

And a whole lot of questions

And the bird always says “Nevermore.”

#11

There once was a man from Japan

whose limericks just wouldn’t scan.

When asked why this was,

he answered, “Because

I always cram as many syllables into the last line as I possibly can.”

#22

There once was a maid from Madras

Who had a magnificent ass.

Not rounded and pink,

as you’d possibly think;

It was gray, had long ears, and ate grass.

#12

There once was a gal from Peru

whose limericks stopped on line two.

#189

There was a zookeep from Nantucket

Who was struck by a fish — couldn’t duck it

He was thrown from the cage

By a pinniped’s rage.

Quoth the walrus, “You can’t has mah bukkit!”

#109

A newspaper poet for Hearst

Deprived of his reason

By uncontrolled sneezing

Was by phantasmal demons coerced

To write all of his limericks reversed.

#2

The limerick packs laughs astronomical

in a space that is most economical.

But of the ones that I’ve seen,

so few have been clean,

and the clean ones are seldom so comical.

#77

A dozen, a gross, and a score

plus three times the square root of four

divided by seven

plus five times eleven

is nine squared, and not a bit more!

#111

There once was a fellow from Xiangling

Whose greatest delight was in mangling

Poems. He would drop

Words between lines and lop

Their ends off, and leave readers dang

#333

There was a limerick I heard,

With stressed syllables quite awkward.

Rhythm was somewhat

Still present in it, but

It forced mispronouncing every word.

#290

To the skeptics I say, oh come off it.

Your aluminum hat? You can doff it.

To me it’s a riddle

Just what’s in the middle

But I’m sure that the last step is profit.

#127

There once was a girl named Jude,

Who’s skirt by the wind was strewed.

A man came along,

And unless im quite wrong,

You expected this last line to be lewd.

#271

Ther once was an old man of Esser,

Whose knowledge grew lesser and lesser,

It at last grew so small

He knew nothing at all,

And now he’s a college professor.

#145

A student as smart as could be

Had to integrate x to the 3

He said “x to the 4

over 4, I am sure”

But was off by a constant of C.

#355

Since your poems are clumsy and s–te,

No longer can I be polite:

Come on you f–ktard,

It’s really not hard,

to get the d–n syllables right.

#65

A poet ran out of ideas;

Because he had no more ideas;

He repeated himself,

By repeating himself,

Because he ran out of ideas;

#277

Two eager and dashing young beaux

Were held up and robbed of their cleaux

In summer it’s warm –

They’ll come to no harm

But what will they do if it sneaux?

#131

There was a young man who said “God

Must find it exceedingly odd

To think that the tree

Should continue to be

When there’s no one about in the quad.”

“Dear Sir: Your astonishment’s odd;

I am always about in the quad.

And that’s why the tree

Will continue to be

Since observed by, Yours faithfully, God.”

#264

There once was a poet named Gunderson

Whose rhyme schemes were all very cumbersome.

With each botched refrain,

he’d be heard to exclaim,

“Oh, how do I get myself into these situations?!

The Screw Is Driven

Thoughts while recovering from my first self-made screwdriver:

  • I can’t tell if I made it stronger or weaker; the lack of ice ruined my frame of reference. Don’t worry, both the OJ and the vodka were chilled.
  • Drinking it from a coffee mug is so much more college kid than a high ball glass.
  • Buying from Total Wine is a pain if you’re exactly 21 (like I am). They have to xerox your drivers license and get you to fill out a form. Every. Freaking. Time.
  • You need the drink to get though the first two thirds of Hot Fuzz, after that, the explosions kick in.
  • Despite the hassle, I’ll probably go back to Total Wine. Four shots worth of vodka there is cheaper than one screwdriver at our usual hangout.

Next on the list: Black Cherry Vodka and… what? Give me some suggestions!