Monday, April 30, 2007

The 9-Volt Battery Conspiracy

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

is there a 9-volt conspiracy?

My day started off normally with a pretty innocuous question from a co-worker:

Why do smoke detectors run on 9-volt batteries? Why not AAs or AAAs?

Why indeed, especially given that so few devices other than smoke detectors use 9-volts? And 9-volts aren’t cheap either–the typical 9-volt battery costs at least twice as much as a AA or AAA battery.

Is this a sign of a conspiracy between the battery conglomerate and smoke detector manufacturers? Or is there some special reason why smoke detectors run on 9-volts instead of their cheaper, more common siblings like the AA or AAA battery?

I decided the best way to find out was to call the fine folks at the Energizer Customer Support Center in St. Louis, Missouri. Here’s how that call went:

Nick: I was wondering if you could answer a burning question of mine.
Customer Service Lady: Of course. Sure!
Nick: Do you know why all smoke detectors seem to run on 9-volt batteries instead of AA or AAA batteries?
Customer Service Lady: (Long pause. Then whispering in the background.) No.
Nick: No? No clue at all?
Customer Service Lady: (Longer pause. More whispering.) No. You could try calling a manufacturer of smoke detectors.
Nick: I’ll do that. Thanks!

Next I called up First Alert, makers of smoke detectors and other products designed to keep you from burning horribly in a fire. I opened my conversation with the same question. Here’s the response I got:

Friendly Guy at First Alert: Well, we actually do have a model of smoke alarm that runs on AA batteries. It’s our ONELINK model.
Nick: Isn’t that the model that the recording at the beginning of this phone call told me was being recalled?
Friendly Guy at First Alert: Ah, erm, yes, but…
Nick: Isn’t it true, Mr. First Alert, that your recall is just part of a giant conspiracy between yourselves and the battery conglomerate to help push expensive 9-volt battery sales? Come on, fess up and save your soul from eternal damnation!

But no repentance would come from Mr. First Alert.

My theory was further confirmed by a trip to a local battery store. I tried to purchase some rechargeable 9-volt batteries.

Battery Store Guy: Sorry, they don’t make ‘em.
Nick: What? They don’t make rechargeable 9-volt batteries? But they have them for every other size and–
Battery Store Guy: (Cocking shotgun.) I said “they don’t make ‘em.”

A quick peak on Radio Shack’s website indicates they do make 9-volt battery chargers:

9-volt battery recharger

But here’s what I saw when I searched their website for the batteries themselves:

rechargeable 9-volt batteries are SOLD OUT WTF???

I could pass off all of these as coincidences up to this point, but then I turned for guidance to the most trusted and accurate source of knowledge on the internet: FoxNews.com. But they didn’t have anything on 9-volt batteries, so I just went to Wikipedia… and found this:

wikipedia says rechargeable batteries should never be used in smoke detectors

There you have it. Smoke detectors can’t use rechargeable batteries… just super-expensive, single-use rectangular conspiracy batteries. And it used to be that you should replace your conspiracy batteries twice a year–whenever you change your clocks at the beginning and end of Daylight Saving Time. But now that Daylight Saving is eight months long, what are we supposed to do? Change them in November and then again in March? Change them every four months? Every day???

I don’t know about you, but I’m breaking out my tinfoil hat… solar-powered, of course.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Dry Loop DSL

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

get dsl without a landline with dry loop dsl

If this is your first visit to Punny Money, there’s a 75% chance you came here via a search engine. And if you came from a search engine, there’s a 1 in 10 probability that you were looking for information on “Dry Loop DSL.” Unfortunately for you, the only news you’ll find here on dry loop DSL is one of my many rants against Verizon.

But since so many of you are arriving here looking for information on dry loop DSL, it’s about time I write a proper article to tell you everything you need to know… in short-attention-span FAQ form!

Frequently Asked Questions About Dry Loop DSL

What is DSL?

DSL stands for digital subscriber line and is one of the high-speed internet services many phone companies around the world have to offer. Unlike cable or fiber-optic internet, DSL needs only an existing phone line to service your home or business. And unlike dial-up, it’s not stupidly slow. Since DSL uses existing phone lines and is normally offered by telecommunications providers, it is usually packaged with land-line telephone service.

What is “dry loop” DSL?

Dry loop DSL, sometimes called “naked” or “cheap hooker” DSL, is DSL internet service not packaged with land-line telephone service. A home or business can have dry loop DSL without needing a land-line phone or dial tone.

What’s so great about dry loop DSL?

Dry loop DSL is exactly the same as packaged DSL except you don’t have to pay for a land-line. As cellular phones become more and more popular, many people are opting to ditch their expensive and rarely used land-line phone service and use only a cell phone. Until a couple of years ago, this posed a problem for DSL customers who were required to have a land-line phone in order to subscribe to DSL service.

Are there any differences in service quality between dry loop and packaged DSL?

As far as I know, there shouldn’t be. It’s the same DSL service as packaged. Some users report slower speeds on a dry loop; others report faster speeds.

When did dry loop DSL service begin?

Dry loop DSL started popping up in the U.S in 2004. Originally offered only by Qwest Communications, it is now offered by a couple other companies, most notably Verizon.

How can I find out if dry loop DSL is available in my area?

Within the United States, dry loop DSL is not yet widely available. It may be available in some parts of certain states and not available in others. Here are some of the webpages you can use to search if a telecom offers dry loop in your area.

Verizon (yes, the page looks a little funny, but it works)
http://www22.verizon.com/forhomedsl/channels/dsl/dryloop/

Qwest
http://www.qwest.com/residential/internet/dslstandalone.html

Speakeasy
http://www.speakeasy.net/home/onelink/

If dry loop isn’t yet available in your area, that may soon change. Thanks to some recent big telecom mergers, AT&T and Verizon have been ordered by the Federal Communications Commission to expand their dry loop availability. Try again in a few months and it might be available then.

Outside of the United States, there are several countries where you can find dry loop DSL. Canada, for example, supports dry loop, and a few companies there offer it for an additional fee. Other countries, like the United Kingdom, do not yet have support for dry loop DSL.

How much does dry loop DSL cost?

Dry loop DSL is usually a tad costlier than a DSL service packaged with land-line service. For example, some cheaper DSL services are $15/month when you also sign up for $40/month land-line service; the same DSL service may cost you $20/month when purchased unbundled with a land-line. But if you rarely or never use your land-line, you’ll still save a bundle of money by getting rid of the land-line and paying a few bucks extra a month for DSL.

In some areas, dry loop DSL costs the same as packaged DSL. As with land-line prices, DSL service charges vary from one place to another. Sometimes next-door neighbors are even quoted different prices on the same phone or DSL services. You’ll have to ask your DSL provider for their fees at your location.

I have land-line service right now. Can I switch to dry loop?

If it’s available in your area, yes. You should be able to call up a service provider and ask them to activate dry loop DSL. You don’t even need to get dry loop DSL from the same provider as your current land-line or packaged service.

Note that there may still be additional setup fees involved with switching from bundled to dry loop DSL.

I have no phone service right now. Can I start on a dry loop?

Eh, probably not without first signing up for a land-line, especially if you’re looking to get Verizon’s dry loop service. Verizon will almost certainly require you to start on a package deal, but you can drop the land-line as soon as the DSL service is activated. As usual, there may be additional fees involved with adding or dropping services.

I want dry loop DSL service, but I also want to make calls from my home phone.

You’re in luck! Simply sign up for dry loop DSL service and you can pick from one of the many voice over IP (VoIP) providers which should run just fine on dry loop internet. And they’ll usually cost a lot less per month than land-line telephone service.

Anything else I should know before signing up for DSL service?

Yes. Depending on what company you sign up with for dry loop DSL, you may be in a position of having to deal with several companies if issues arise. For example, read about one person’s experience when Speakeasy provided the DSL, Covad leased the phone lines, and Verizon owned the residential phone box. To summarize, one company screwing up could break your dry loop DSL service even if another company provides the actual service. Not only that, but getting the situation repaired can be tricky.

As with any service, your experience may vary. If possible, sign up for a trial period with no early termination fee. Don’t hesitate to file complaints about companies whose incompetence interferes with your internet service.

Do you have a question about dry loop DSL? Add a comment and ask!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Debunking the Myth That Tax Refunds Are Bad For You

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics:

how does your tax return stack up?

Except for some victims of a recent tragedy, foul weather, or tax software company incompetence, most of us in the U.S. have filed our tax return (or automatic extension) and have a good idea of our tax bills for 2006.

Some people expecting a refund from the IRS count themselves as lucky–they’re getting “free money,” “an unexpected windfall,” or perhaps “a gift from the government.” Of course anybody who understands how money is made realizes that an income tax refund is simply the return to you of your own money. If you’re getting a refund, you had too many taxes withheld from your paychecks over the year. But the federal government is very appreciative of your interest-free loan. So appreciative, in fact, that they make you fill out pages and pages of forms to get that money back.

Certain personal finance writers who don’t know what they’re talking about will tell you that income tax refunds mean you screwed up. How dare you let the gubberment hang on to even a penny of your money longer than they should. You missed out on a couple hundred dollars in savings interest by not receiving that money throughout the year. Your stoopid with monie.

On the contrary, income tax refunds are probably good for you, the average American citizen. (Though if you’re reading this, you’re financially smarter than the average American, so you may be an exception to what I’m about to say.) The average Americans with their negative savings rates typically spend their entire paychecks. Adjusting their W-4s so that excess taxes aren’t taken out in the first place just means more money for typical Americans to spend right away.

But if those excess taxes instead accumulate in a government bank account, they form a bigger ball of money. And at tax return time, the typical American will be more inclined to save that “unexpected windfall” instead of spending it like they would have during the year. Sure they missed out on up to 12 months of interest, but at least they didn’t blow it all on a giant TV.

Income tax returns are a psychological mechanism for Americans to start saving. If I give you $3,650 in December, you are more likely to put that lump sum in a savings account than if I gave you $10 a day for the entire year. Large wads of cash are an invitation to save; mere nickels and dimes demand to be spent.

For the second straight year, I’m expecting a tax refund close to five figures. That’s because, once again, I screwed up by not adjusting my W-4 following a major life event. In 2005, I failed to adjust my W-4 after getting married, so my darling tax deduction–er, ahem, wife greatly raised my deductions. Last year, we bought a house, opening the door to all sorts of crazy itemized deductions.

But that’s okay, because every penny of my refund is going straight to savings. Would that money have ended up in savings anyway? Maybe about 20% of it (my target savings rate), but the other 80% would have been spent on my antique ukulele collection.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Your Total Measure of Wealth: Job Status

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

get your job status quotient at punny money

Chances are that you’re one of those poor fools who has to work for a living. You wake up five days a week, stumble into the bathroom, emerge slightly more awake than you entered, schlep your way to work, do something of some benefit to someone somewhere, get paid for it, crawl your way back home, make love to your beautiful spouse if he or she is in the mood which is more often not than so, and go to bed.

Before we continue, I have a confession to make: I’m one of those poor fools, too. Except my wife is always in the mood, though I often work six or seven days a week. But you get the picture.

Ever since God invented the first job when he told Noah to build his ark, the exchange of labor for goods or money has been a basic part of the world’s economy. Without paid jobs, we’d all have to be our own farmers, carpenters, doctors, and tax accountants. Jobs also serve as a way of giving our life meaning. We find something we’re good at, we do it each day, and we’re rewarded with the means to support ourselves and our families. It’s a pretty neat deal we’ve got going here.

And yet, what’s the one thing people complain about the most above all? (I mean, more than the War in Iraq, gas prices, and Britney Spears.) That’s right: their jobs. Most people hate their jobs. They either hate what they do, they hate their coworkers, they hate how little they are paid, or they just hate having to wear pants every single day.

As much as we might “hate our jobs,” most of us can’t live without them–at least not for very long. That’s why another fundamental component of Your Total Measure of Wealth™ is your job status quotient, or the measure of your job’s impact on your wealth.

How Your Job Affects Your Wealth

man with a big broom

Your job has some pretty obvious impacts on your personal wealth. Imagine your wealth as a big blue lake full of fish. Now let’s say that your job is a river that feeds water into that lake. As long as the river keeps flowing, the lake has water and all the fish are happy. But if something happens to your job river and the flow to the lake is cut off, your lake will start to dry up. The fish will be okay as long as you restore the river before the lake dries up completely.

A few people are fortunate enough that they can pump millions of gallons of reserve water into the lake if their river ever stops flowing. A lot more aren’t so lucky–their lakes are already so small that even a week or two of river stoppage will turn their fish into fish sticks. In short, your job means your survival. If you don’t have a job, or you can’t work, your lake will disappear and your fish will die (or be forced to live in a tiny government-sponsored fishbowl).

why is nobody in the copy room where i work this hot?

Just having a job doesn’t mean you’re going to get by. Your job must match your lifestyle. If you’re that girl whose job is to make sure my Whopper is situated in the center of the wrapper, don’t make any plans to live in Beverly Hills. Similarly, if you’re a $500-an-hour attorney, you can probably do a bit better than Compton. Your job helps dictate how you can live right now.

Your job also has a direct bearing on your personal savings rate. If you make $2,000 a month and the sum of all your expenses is $2,000 a month, you will have a savings rate of zero. And if your job has no room for growth, your lifestyle will likely stay fixed too. Your job helps dictate how you will be able to live in the future.

Your job has lots of effects on your life other than where and how well you can live. It affects your mood, your health, your family–practically every aspect of your life.

Hopefully you realize that your job status is of great importance to you. Now let’s find out how important.

Determining Your Job Status Quotient

caution: watch for gopher holes

WARNING: This section is a work in progress. Suggestions for improvement are welcome; you can leave them in the comments section below. Check back often for changes to this section. Any updates will be listed at the end of this article under “Revision History.”

Unlike wealth criteria like income and net worth, “job status” doesn’t immediately evoke images of numbers or calculations. You could say something like, “I have a job status of 312!” but people would just laugh at you or have you committed.

Now if Donald in Mathmagic Land taught us anything, it’s that anything can be turned into a mathematical equation. You will soon see that coming up with an equation to describe job status is not that hard. First we’ll need the common components of any equation which are:

  • Input(s)
  • Output(s)
  • Plus sign
  • Equal sign
  • Magic

We know what most of these are already for our job status equation, especially output–it’s the number we end up with that’ll tell us what our job status is. But what about the inputs? Figuring out those will require some creativity. Below is the list I put together; please feel free to suggest additions to it.

Job Status Quotient Inputs

  • Employment. Do you have a job?
  • Financial independence. Do you need a job to survive?
  • Self-employment. Are you your own boss?
  • Job-to-life ratio. Is your job suited to your lifestyle?
  • Job-to-hopes ratio. Is your job suited to your desired lifestyle?
  • Job satisfaction. Do you like your job?
  • Job security. How safe is your current job?
  • Opportunities in your field. If you lose your current job, can you easily find another?
  • Job growth. Do you have opportunity for advancement/promotion?
  • Job history. Do you have a respectable resume?
  • Relevant education. How many pieces of paper are hanging on your wall?
  • Job stress. Ever rip out your hair over work?
  • Work-life balance. Does your job monopolize your life?
  • Job benefits/perks. Does your job come with any nice extras?

Now let’s transform these inputs into numeric values we can use. We’ll take care of that, along with calculating the final job status quotient, by putting together a questionnaire that turns input criteria into a standardized assessment of your job status.

Job Status Questionnaire

{
echo "If you’re reading this via Punny Money’s RSS feed, click here to take the Job Status Questionnaire.
“;
}
?>

(Please note that your answers to this questionnaire may be recorded to help improve the quality of the questionnaire. No identifying information is stored, and questionnaire results will only be publicized in aggregated form.)

  1. My Total Measure of Wealth:
    Job Status Questionnaire

  2. Instructions: Select the most appropriate answer to each question. After answering all questions, click “Give Me My Job Status Quotient” to obtain your job status quotient.

    If you have more than one job, select the answers which most closely reflect your entire job picture.

  3. How much do you need a job to survive?

    I could not last even a month without a job.

    I could get by for a month or two without a job.

    I could survive an extended period of unemployment.

    I do not need a job to survive.
  4. If you lose your current job, how easily could you find another like it? If you are unemployed, answer according to how easily you expect to find a new job like your previous one.

    Very easily.

    Somewhat easily.

    It would take some work.

    It would be very difficult.
  5. Are you currently unemployed?

    No.

    Yes. (If you answer yes to this question, leave the remaining questions blank and submit your questionnaire for scoring.)
  6. Are you completely or almost completely self-employed?

    No.

    Yes.
  7. How well does your job support your current lifestyle?

    Very well.

    Adequately.

    I barely get by right now.
  8. How well would your job support the lifestyle you desire?

    Very well.

    Adequately.

    Barely.

    Not at all.
  9. How much do you like your job?

    I love my job.

    I like my job enough.

    I tolerate my job.

    I do not like my job very much.

    I hate my job.
  10. How likely is it that you could/will ever lose your job?

    Very unlikely.

    Unlikely.

    Somewhat likely.

    Very likely.
  11. How much opportunity for advancement or promotion does your job offer?

    A lot.

    Some.

    Not much.
  12. How impressive would your resume appear to potential employers?

    Very impressive.

    Somewhat impressive.

    Not too impressive.
  13. Do you have a college degree relevant to your job?

    Yes.

    No.
  14. How stressful is your job?

    Very stressful.

    Somewhat stressful.

    Only a little stressful or rarely stressful.

    Not stressful at all.
  15. Does your job take up too much of your life?

    Yes.

    No.
  16. Does your job offer benefits or perks beyond your wage/salary?

    Yes, many.

    Yes, some.

    Not much, if any.

Job Status Quotient Scale

To keep things simple, the maximum score you can receive on this questionnaire is 100. A job status quotient of 100 means your employment situation is rockin’ for at least one of many reasons. Perhaps you’re a retired millionaire who doesn’t need a job to get by. Or maybe you love your low-stress, well-paying, highly secure job. As you can see from the questions, there are many factors that go into determining your job status. Some are more important than others, but you don’t need to ace every single question to come out with a “perfect” score. I fully suspect 5-10% of people taking this questionnaire will score 90 or above.

On the other end of the scale, there are also a few ways to score a 0. Unemployment pretty much kills your score unless you don’t need a job to survive. You can avoid a 0 score and still be unemployed if you state that you can easily find another job or you can get by for a while without a job. There are also ways to completely bomb the questionnaire even if you are currently employed, but you’d have to give an awful lot of negative answers on the questionnaire.

Most people should have a score between 30 and 90. This range will typically indicate someone who is employed but not financially independent. Where these people fall in that range depends on the various aspects of the job itself–pay relative to their lifestyle, job satisfaction and security, etc.

In case you’re curious, I scored 65 on job status.

Job Status Questionnaire Breakdown

This section is sort of a “behind the scenes” look at the questionnaire meant to show the impact each question and its answers have on your job status quotient.

As you’ll see, each answer has a corresponding point value. The job status equation is simply the sum of all the point values for the answers you select. Some answers add to your score; some subtract from it; some have no effect.

It is possible to finish the quiz with a negative score, though such scores are rounded up to zero. It is also possible to finish with more than 100 points, but the maximum score you can receive is capped at 100.


How much do you need a job to survive?.

I could not last even a month without a job: +0
I could get by for a month or two without a job: +5
I could survive an extended period of unemployment: +10
I do not need a job to survive: +120

Comments: If you don’t need a job to survive, you automatically get tons of points that make it pretty hard to score under 100. Congratulations on your financial independence! This question also covers cases such as college students and younger children who are financially supported by their parents.


If you lose your current job, how easily could you find another like it? If you are unemployed, answer according to how easily you expect to find a new job like your previous one.

Very easily: +10
Somewhat easily: +5
It would take some work: +0
It would be very difficult: -10

Comments: Even the most secure jobs could disappear in the wrong circumstances, so being able to find another quickly is a good thing for anyone.


Are you currently unemployed?
No: +10.
Yes: +0.

Comments: Unemployment destroys your job status quotient. But if you can get by for a while without a job and/or can find another one pretty easily, you can still avoid a score of zero. And if you don’t need a job to survive, this question won’t have much effect.


Are you completely or almost completely self-employed?
No: +0
Yes: +15

Comments: Working for yourself gives you a nice bonus since it puts your job’s destiny in your own hands rather than someone else’s. The self-employed are also generally happier and have the potential to earn a lot more (or a lot less).


How well does your job support your current lifestyle?

Very well: +5
Adequately: +0
I barely get by right now: -5

Comments: If your job does not sufficiently support your living habits, you either need a new job or new living habits… or both!


How well would your job support the lifestyle you desire?
Very well: +15
Adequately: +10
Barely: +5
Not at all: +0

Comments: I imagine most people will answer “Not at all” to this since they would probably be living their desired lifestyle if they could. This question rewards you for choosing to live below your means.


How much do you like your job?

I love my job: +10
I like my job enough: +5
I tolerate my job: +0
I do not like my job very much: -5
I hate my job: -15

Comments: Since your job is likely such a big part of your life, it’s important that you like what you do. If you don’t, even if it supports your lavish lifestyle, you get a penalty on your quotient.


How likely is it that you could/will ever lose your job?

Very unlikely: +10
Unlikely: +5
Somewhat likely: -5
Very likely: -10

Comments: Job security is a definite plus, but job insecurity is an even bigger minus. If you gave one of the two bottom answers, make sure you keep your options open in case the ax ever falls.


How much opportunity for advancement or promotion does your job offer?

A lot: +10
Some: +5
Not much: +0

Comments: This one is pretty self-explanatory. Without the potential for job growth, you are more likely to have a stagnant salary and eventually come to dislike your job. New challenges help keep your job exciting, and a bump in pay can mean a better lifestyle in the future.


How impressive would your resume appear to potential employers?

Very impressive: +10
Somewhat impressive. +5
Not too impressive: +0

Comments: I was on the fence as to whether I should include this question since the previous one already asks about your ability to find another job if needed, but this one covers some additional, subtle nuances of job searches. You may be able to find another job easily, but an impressive job history could get you an even better one than you had before.


Do you have a college degree relevant to your job?

Yes: +10
No: +0

Comments: A college degree instantly makes you more marketable than a mere high school graduate. This is true for virtually every job out there, even though for many of them a degree is just a piece of paper and the real learning doesn’t start until you’re actually on the job.


How stressful is your job?

Very stressful: -5
Somewhat stressful: +0
Only a little stressful or rarely stressful: +5
Not stressful at all: +10

Comments: Most jobs are at least a little stressful, but a very stressful job can impact your health and your desire and ability to work.


Does your job take up too much of your life?

Yes: +0
No: +5

Comments: I bet a lot of people for whom the answer to this question is really “yes” will still answer “no.” Many of us must sacrifice our free time, our hobbies, our families, and many other things all for the sake of our jobs. A job is meant to give you the means to live, so if you instead live for that job, you’re not really living for yourself… unless you love your job that much in which case you’re probably going to come out of this with a high job status quotient anyway.


Does your job offer benefits or perks beyond your wage/salary?

Yes, many: +10
Yes, some: +5
Not much, if any: +0

Comments: Great benefits are a key ingredient of a great job. Things like medical benefits, stock options, and foosball in the break room are nice perks and act as the icing on your job cake. (I would have used the river and lake metaphor again, but someone just walked in with a yummy looking slice of cake.)

Final Thoughts on Your Job Status

Obviously this is all just a work in progress (because I said so earlier!), so I welcome your comments on the questionnaire, the scoring, or anything else you see in this article. Hopefully I’ve captured most of the important data points into the job status quotient, but I’m sure I’ve missed one or two things, so it’s your job (pun intended) to catch me on it!

Also note that your job status quotient can change over time, so I recommend retaking the questionnaire periodically or whenever you have a major change in your employment situation.

If you answered the questionnaire, you now hold one of the keys to Your Total Measure of Wealth. Coming up, we’ll take look at the next one: your housing status.

Revision History

April 10, 2007. First version (1.0) released!

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Search and Ye Shall Receive: Credit Card Jail, Inflated Salaries, and AP Exams for the Lazy

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: , , ,

It’s time for a triple dose of Search and Ye Shall Receive. Here are some questions people have recently asked search engines that brought them to Punny Money.

And don’t worry, these are genuine answers, unlike my answers to a certain other set of questions.

Jail for Credit Card Debt?

hamster debtor in jail

Will I go to jail if I don’t pay my credit cards? (via Google)

I feel it necessary to reiterate that I am not an attorney, so this is not legal advice. The answer to your question is probably not, assuming you’re in the United States. Now most people would tell you “definitely not if you in the United States” since the U.S. no longer has debtor’s prison. That said, credit card debt can still land you in jail if you misrepresented yourself in any way to the credit card company. For example, if you claimed that you make $100,000 when you really make $15,000 a year in order to get a larger credit line, and then you proceeded to max out that credit line and can’t pay it back, you better hope the credit card company doesn’t find out because lying on a credit card application is a criminal offense.

If you don’t pay your debts and they’re sent to a collections company, you may be threatened with jail by heavy-handed collection agents. These intimidation tactics are illegal. You won’t go to jail simply for having an unpaid debt.

Now for the scary part. Even though there is no debtor’s jail in the U.S. anymore, you can still go to jail for certain unpaid debts, most notably child support and alimony. Thanks to the Child Support Enforcement Act of 1984, you can send your state’s attorney after a deadbeat spouse to garnish wages and tax returns, seize property, and suspend licenses. If these efforts don’t squeeze some cash from your ex, he or she can be found in contempt of court and thrown in jail for failure to pay child support and alimony.

Photo by SantaRosa OLD SKOOL

Pay Keeping Pace With Inflation?

picture of a pound, because it is british

Is my salary keeping up with inflation? (via Google UK)

We recently talked about income vs. inflation for the U.S. in a reader poll showing that less than half of people expect their 2007 incomes to keep up with 2006 inflation (4% for the U.S.).

Now since this search came from the United Kingdom version of Google, it might be more helpful to know the British inflation rate. Over there, the chief measure of inflation is the Consumer Price Index (CPI). As of March 2007, the annual CPI was 2.8%.

So if your British employer didn’t bump up your 2007 pay by a good 3% or so, and you’re not finding other ways to make some extra pounds, you might want to get shirty with your twat of a gaffer and throw a right jolly good wobbler at him so he can see how narked you are.

AP Exams Without Class?

take the class and avoid the evil red pen

Can you take an AP exam without taking an AP class? (via Google)

Advanced Placement (AP) exams are one of the best ways to get through college cheap. For just $83 (the cost of an AP exam as of 2007), you can test out of an entire college class (sometimes more than one!).

The short answer to this question is yes. There is no requirement that you take a course labeled as “Advanced Placement” before taking an Advanced Placement exam. The longer answer is I don’t recommend it, and here’s why:

  • AP classes can be much more challenging than regular or even honors classes. That extra challenge and the additional content you cover in the AP version of a class can mean the difference between a marginal and an excellent score on the exam.
  • AP exams have unique formats. Don’t think you can walk in from the street and ace the AP U.S. History exam just because you know your American Revolution. Certain AP exams have question formats you won’t see anywhere else like the dreaded Document-Based Questions (DBQs).
  • AP classes teach you how to do well on AP exams. I have seen AP classes that teach exactly the same material as their Honors or Gifted and Talented counterparts with one very important addition–AP exam skills. In my AP U.S. History class alone, we spent no less than four weeks of class practicing DBQs. You won’t get this kind of practice in non-AP classes unless you do it on your own… and kids don’t do schoolwork on their own.
  • Your teacher might not appreciate it. If you wanted to take the AP exam, you should have taken the AP class. That’s what the AP class teacher will likely tell you when you ask to take the AP exam with his or her students. The AP class teachers will look down on the fact that you didn’t challenge yourself throughout the year by doing the AP coursework, and they may be more reluctant to help you prepare for the AP exam now.

So if you’re a home-schooled student or carrying an A+++ in your regular classes, AP exams are still an option for you. Heck, they’re even an option for the dumb students too if they don’t mind wasting 83 bucks (but they’re probably bad at math and won’t notice the money is gone anyway).