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How 8 Changes Will Impact You

Politicians, economists, columnists and bloggers have offered numerous stark predictions about how the current financial crisis and government bailout will affect average Americans. But the truth is that Wall Street’s crisis, which kicked off September 15 with the fall of Lehman Brothers, Merrill Lynch and AIG, is already affecting Main Street. 

See our list of eight ways your finances are already being affected by the current financial meltdown.

I. Credit Card Limits Reduced

Even if you have a high credit score and a blemish-free payment history, your credit limit may have been cut. American Express recently cut the credit for 10% of its cardholders, but most banks have reduced credit limits for some customers since last summer. If you are making a big purchase or use your credit card for unplanned expenses, be sure to check your limit. There are big penalties for going over it.

II. Student Loans Yanked

It’s not just banks and mortgage lenders that are suffering. The student loan industry is in crisis. Private lenders are going under and some state agencies and large banks, including Bank of America and Wachovia, have stopped issuing student loans. Some schools are being more forgiving on payment schedules as students scramble to secure funding. Call the student aid office for help, but expect less favorable terms than prior years.

III. Money Market Mutual Funds Safer

To stave off investor panic after one prominent money market fund “broke the buck,” or posted a small decline in value, the government has promised it would cover any losses. Not all funds are covered in the new program, so check with your fund company if you are worried. With this added protection, money market funds are now just as safe as bank savings accounts.

IV. More Incentives to Open Bank Accounts

One result of the credit crisis is that banks are trying their darndest to attract more deposits. Chase is currently offering $125 (at least in New York City) to open an account with direct deposit. Citibank is beefing up its “Thank You” rewards program. Refer a friend, and Bank of America will give you both $25. Remember, low fees and high interest on savings are more important than one-time incentives when choosing a bank.

V. Easier to Get a Loan With Good Credit

Don’t forget, even in the current crisis, banks want to stay in business. So they are continuing to make loans to borrowers with with good credit records and plenty of assets. There are good deals on home equity lines of credit and businesses have found short-term loans easier to come by since the bailout talks began.

VI. Harder to Get Loan if You Have Weak Credit

If you have a tarnished credit history, don’t expect to get a loan any time soon — even if you’re willing to pay high interest rates. Banks continue to tighten their lending standards as the credit crisis deepens. If you need to rebuild your credit score, a good way to start is by using a secured credit card (one where you have cash in a bank account to back up purchases).

VII. More Store Deals Ahead of a Weak Holiday

With the economy slowing and family budgets tightening, retailers are anticipating a tough holiday sales season ahead. So they are layering on the deals early. Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving when the holiday shopping season kicks off, should provide a bonanza of deals. Consumer electronics will offer particularly good buys.

VIII. Investment Returns Are Down

The stock market has taken it on the chin in recent weeks. But sharp sell-offs on bad news have been followed by major relief rallies a day or two later. The worst thing you can do is panic and sell at the bottom. Instead, make sure your investments are diversified and use the upswings to sell some stocks if you realize now that you’ve taken on more risk than you can handle.

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November 1, 2008 Posted by | Business, Money | , , , , | Leave a comment

Luxury with zip in modern Bentley

Let’s get one thing straight at the outset: The Bentley Continental GTC convertible that I tested did not have the standard-issue gas cap lurking under its filler flap.

No, my example of this British icon was a bit more upscale. It was fitted with the “Mulliner Alloy Fuel Filler Cap,” a $290 option.

According to David Reuter, Bentley’s spokesman in the North American colonies, the difference is the Mulliner model is graced with the Bentley logo (a winged B).

You may wonder why someone would spend an extra $290 for a B you can see only when you open the filler flap to put gas in the car. But, if you have to wonder, you cannot afford this particular $211,475 ragtop.

So, who can?

“Our median buyer has a net worth of a little over $3 million,” Reuter said. “And that doesn’t include real estate holdings, just liquid assets.”

That buyer is also predominantly male, typically in early middle age, Reuter adds. And he “has three or four other automobiles, like a Ferrari or another British car.”

That buyer is also pretty recession-proof, observes Joe Innaurato, general manager of ultra-luxury car sales at F.C. Kerbeck & Sons, in Palmyra, N.J.

Innaurato says Kerbeck’s new Bentley sales have been going “very, very well, in contrast to the regular auto industry, because people with money aren’t affected by this economy.” He adds that Kerbeck is selling Bentleys at a 150-a-year clip, and came in second in U.S. sales in July, behind the Beverly Hills franchise.

And what are these folks getting for these big Bentley bucks?

The answer is a lot more than they were before Volkswagen bought the brand a decade ago. The old, British-designed car had nothing to sell but high-quality materials and a mind-boggling amount of hand work. From a technological standpoint, the cars were antediluvian. Their pushrod V-8 was designed before the Earth’s tectonic plates assumed their present positions.

The folks who design Volkswagens and Audis changed that. The test car was powered by a techy, twin-turbocharged, 6-liter V-12 that developed 552 horsepower. This power was dispatched to all four wheels by a six-speed automatic transmission and an all-wheel-drive system featuring a Torsen center differential. Three rear-drive models use an extensively modified, turbocharged version of the old V-8.

“It’s a real car now,” Innaurato said. “It’s very well-engineered and styled, and performs well.”

And it does perform. Despite the fact, it weighs a morbidly obese 5,478 pounds, the big droptop gets from 0 to 60 in a factory-claimed 4.8 seconds, then finishes up at 195 miles an hour. The big guy is also surprisingly light on its feet in the corners.

Read whole story here. 

October 19, 2008 Posted by | Lifestyle, Money | , , , | Leave a comment