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2016 Primary Predictions: Democrats

720x405-demsI like to bet money on elections.  So I can’t afford to be emotional about who I want to win – I only care about who will win.  

Despite only being ahead of Sanders by only 5% in the national polling, Clinton has the Democratic nomination locked.

Ignore the national polls.  They are fun for the national media to create suspense and sell ads. The reality of the system is, nominations are decided by delegates.

Democrats have a surprisingly undemocratic process for choosing their nominee by using a huge number of “super delegates.”  These are party power players who can vote for whomever they choose – regardless of how their states’ vote.

This is a big deal.  Clinton has managed to secure 96% of these declared super delegates, 435 to 20! To put this in perspective, for the hoopla surrounding the 3 states that have voted so far, Clinton has only won a total of 52 delegates. But she already has an extra 435 super delegates in her pocket.

How high is this super delegate hurdle?  Sanders has to win at least 58% of the vote in ALL of the remaining the states  — or it’s over.  Currently polling shows this has no chance of happening.

A sample of the states voting over the next 8 days:

  • Alabama 59% Clinton to 31% Sanders
  • Arkansas 57% Clinton to 29% Sanders
  • Georgia 63% Clinton to 26% Sanders
  • South Carolina 58% Clinton to 31% Sanders
  • Massachusetts 46% Clinton  to 46% Sanders (Even if Sander’s “wins,” maybe he will net 1 extra delegate tops over Clinton – meaningless against 435)
  • Michigan  56% Clinton to 37% Sanders
  • Tennessee 53% Clinton to 30% Sanders
  • Texas 60% Clinton to 34% Sanders
  • Louisiana 60% Clinton to 29% Sanders
  • Vermont 75% Sanders to 25% Clinton (Vermont is Sander’s home state)
  • Virginia 55% Clinton to 35% Sanders
  • Mississippi 60% Clinton to 26% Sanders
  • … and older polling in Colorado, Minnesota, Kansas shows Clinton far ahead.

It’s easy to look at the polls and see Clinton is about to knock it out of the park.

I’ve also looked over at the financial betting markets.  Numerous markets are putting Clinton at 90+% chance of winning the nomination.

The media can make a lot of noise about a “close” the race between Clinton and Sanders.  If one focuses on the super delegates and upcoming calendar of states that Clinton has locked up, it’s easy to see, Clinton has the D nomination.

Side note:  I felt this primary was decided back in 2013 when many viable alternatives to Clinton publicly implied they would sit if she declared.  3 years ago, I wrote an article that predicted that, if she ran, she would win the nomination and later, the presidency.

How Clinton could lose:  Clinton has a <9% chance of losing but but not by a Sanders’ rally, but by an indictment by the FBI and DOJ regarding her email server.  This is a very real issue D’s are ignoring.  There is strong evidence and on-going FBI investigations.  I’ve won $100 betting Clinton wouldn’t be indicted quickly but I won’t bet further.  Not until the FBI and DOJ decide what they’re going to do.  Too much risk.

Best Cash Back Credit Cards (2016 Update)

Best Cash Back Credit Cards for 2011

If you have good credit, the opportunities this year are as good as they’re going to get for the foreseeable future!  Here are the two best cash back credit cards I’ve seen, ever.

 

(Drum roll) The best cash back credit cards for 2016

 

CitiBank DoubleCash Master Card:  Earn 1% immediately and 1% when you pay off your card (2% total).  Since Mastercard/Visa are accepted in many more locations than AmEx, this is my go-to card, except for purchases where I need the warranty or other benefits that an AmEx card provides.  App

American Express Fidelity Rewards: Earn 2% cash on everything.  Requires opening a Fidelity account online here (<3 minutes, no deposit required). Cash back rewards are transferred to the Fidelity account (can be transferred to your checking or automatically invested in an IRA or college savings account).  You can setup the cards to auto-sweep to your account monthly assuming you have at least $50 (instead of yearly like Costco or until you have some minimum number of points).  App.

These two cards represent where 95% of my charges go.

Before continuing to other cards, I want to briefly discuss American Express benefits:

  • American Express Additional Benefits:
    Extended Warranty: Extends the term of the original manufacturer’s warranty up to one additional year.  This actually can save a lot of money (TVs, phones, stereos, etc)
    Damage/Theft Protection: Protects purchases against accidental damage and theft for up to 90 days from purchase.
    Other Benefits here half way at bottom.

American Express is the best card to use for all high value new purchases, particularly flat screen TV/computer/smartphone/tech purchases, because it extends the warranty for free for a year, which has a lot of value.  For example, extending the iPhone warranty 1 year costs an additional $70; an extended warranty on a new TV or other high end purchase is worth even more money.  A friend recently had the water pump on his hot tub go out;  it was outside the manufacturer’s warranty by 1 month.  But it was covered by American Express, who cut him a check for $700.

On mileage cards:

Q: “Do any of the air mile cards make sense to keep long term and pay the fee vs the 2% cash back? I’ve always had trouble with paying a credit card a yearly fee so I haven’t paid attention to it. But I do travel a lot. ”

The only way a $95/annual fee makes sense in my opinion is if you travel a lot and get free baggage with it.  That can save $35-50 each direction.  Do a couple trips a year and that adds up.  Otherwise, $95 chews up $9500 ($95/.01) worth of expenses you charged that would have earned you $190 ($9500*.02) on a 2% card.

High reward / High annual fee cards:

American Express Platinum:  I just got it this year and will review it after I’ve had it a year.  This card has a very hefty annual fee ($450) but comes with a lot of perks.

Chase Saphire Reserve:  Also with a $450 fee, depending on how you travel this could be a better card than the AmEx Platinum.  It’s under consideration for next year.  App.

High sign-up bonuses:

Is it worth it?  Absolutely.  Some cards will pay $400-600, even $1,000 for signing up for their card.  Some will waive the annual fee the first year.  Just make sure you cash the bonus out and cancel it in time.  I often make an extra $500-600 a year just signing up for an extra credit card.  I consider it the perk of good credit.

Continuing onto other top cards:

VISA Capital One Rewards:  Earn 1.5% cash back on everything.  This is better than the Fidelity VISA card in two important ways:  it doesn’t require a Fidelity account and instead of sweeping the money into an account, you can set it to auto credit against your future bill so you get immediate benefit instead of the bank holding your money. App.

VISA Fidelity Cash Rewards: Earn 1.5% cash on everything.  Requires first opening a Fidelity Cash & Brokerage account online here (<3 minutes, no deposit required)). Cash back rewards are transferred to the Fidelity account which can be transferred to your checking or automatically invested in an IRA or college savings account.  Be sure to give Fidelity account # to representative if applying by phone.  App.

Amex SimplyCash Business: Earn 5% cash back on wireless service and office supplies , 3% on gasoline up $12,000 per year, and 1% on every other purchase.  $100 annual fee (which eliminates a lot of its value for me).  Plus, it is automatically credited to your statement each month. App.

VISA Bank of America Rewards: 3% gas, 2% restaurants, 1% everything else plus $50 cash bonus.  App.

Summary:  The difference between 1% and 1.5%-2% is  is 50%-100% more cash back.  It’s the difference between a $500 (at 1%) and a $750 (at 1.5%) or $1,000 (at 2%) for simply using a better card.

Avoid.  Credit cards with “up to” language or that have rotating categories or other strings attached generally are games that lower total cash back at the end of a year.

Debit Cards.

While I strongly dislike debit cards because they are more difficult to deal with in terms of fraud protection and offer less fringe benefits, below is the best cash back debit card available:

Mastercard PerkStreet Debit Card:  2% cash back on everything provided you maintain a $5,000+ balance. Less than $5,000, the reward drops to 1%.  Why you would have this card is beyond me… but it’s a top debit card. App.

These are the best deals I believe are available.  If you’re aware of something better, please let me know.

Life Hacks for 2015

bruce leeSometimes it’s the little things in life.  Like taking away the things that bug the hell out of you.  Here are the top things I’ve found in the last year or so:

Sleep:  If you naturally go to sleep easily, screw you.  For those of us who struggle to sleep, I got an adjustable bedframe that puts the body into a zero-gravity position.  Now I fall asleep without meds and the real difference is now I can sleep on my back, and what I found by transitioning from side/stomach sleeping to back was a massive difference in quality of sleep.  This might be the single quality of life difference I’ve discovered in 2015.  I would have paid a small fortune to have learned this a few years ago.  This might not work for everyone – I recommend Sleep Country:100% cash back (not store credit) for 90-days – so you have zero risk- and they price match.

MightyText:  When I walk into the office, my Android phone jumps on the WiFi and instantly I get my texts on my computer.  I literally developed neck/muscle issues from holding my phone so damn much and texting.  This app alone was a compelling reason for me to switch from an iPhone.  If you use Chrome, try the plug-in.  Using the web version, try the “Power View.” (Credit: Craig)

Spare cell battery: Amazing how $40 can solve a reoccurring stress so easily. I recommend this phone case for heavy iPhone users and buying a spare battery/charger for android users.

TypeMail:  This app is literally everything I wanted an e-mail app to be.  Customizable shortcuts, ability to archive and put in folders easily, laid out intelligently — everything the stock email app wasn’t and should have been.

TripAdvisor:  This was my best travel discovery.  I love to travel but want the planning phase of it to be over as quickly as possible (while optimizing for cost/experience awesomeness).  When planning my trip to Argentina, someone recommended I 86 the stack of long-ass-overwhelming-to-read-already-dated-guide books and use TripAdvisor/user reviews.  Pure gold.  So fast, so easy, so painless, and accurate.  Plus, when I was traveling, found the smartphone app super useful for finding the best restaurant, coffee shop, dance club, etc like an experienced local.

DoctorOnDemand:  Holy crap if this wasn’t one of my favorite discoveries from CES 2015.  Want to see a doctor for $40 instead of $125, in minutes instead of an hour or two?  Give this a try.  Game changer for basic doctor visits, simple prescription needs.  They often have coupon codes for free first visits.  Use my code 339elx9q to get your first Video Visit FREE! If you sign up, I get credit too. Download the app or register here:http://bit.ly/dodshare

External monitor/keyboard:  I was spending hundreds of dollars a month combating headaches caused in part from being hunched over my notebook computer.  Spent $200 on an external monitor (and stacked boxes redneck-like until it was head-height) and $80 on a great keyboard – problem solved.  Best money I spent all year and good investment in keeping me from being a hunchback.

Smart watch:  If you are constantly checking/using your phone for business, try a smart watch.  I’ll bet $50 you don’t return it.  Also does step tracking and often for sale used on Craigslist or eBay (where I just bought mine for over half off barely used).

Unroll.me:  This awesome, free service allows you to see all the email lists you’re subscribed to and have them put into an email each day so you’re getting 1 email instead of 10 each day, and makes it easy to unsubscribe to pesky ones you no longer want.

Facebook Purity (FBpurity.com):  *Highly recommend*  Allows you to make facebook what you want it to be:  remove keywords (ie, Jenner, politics, jesus, whatever) and disable notifcations, remove ads, and more.  Works for the web (not mobile).

Health Insurance:  Can’t believe I didn’t know this existed years ago.  I went from 5k deductible at $275/month to a $500 deductible at $150/month by switching to Christian Healthcare Ministries.  Unsure about what happens when you actually have to use it?  I can speak from experience, since I had to file a claim recently.  To add to the awesomeness, any discounts you negotiate with the doctor count against the deductible.  Example:  my $2,700 hospital bill was discounted $650, which CHM applied against my $500 deductible.  Total deductible:  $0.  For families, $450 covers everyone, regardless of number of kids.  Do your own math and analysis.  Premium savings alone cover my whole deductible 3 times a year. If you sign up, please reference member #189034, since it’ll save me a month’s worth of insurance.  (Credit: Dustin)

Favorite small bluetooth speaker:  Large sound for size, crazy battery life.  Great for packing with luggage, hot tubbing, etc.

Favorite deodorant:  Much better than the deodorant stick I’ve been using for 8 years.

Favorite Omega-3 oil:  This is the best rated oil for the money and one of the few supplements that I can feel.

Favorite computer glasses:  Discovered at CES, these just make my eyes relax when I’m on my computer.

Favorite white noise maker:  I’ve been using this for 10+ years.  I take it everywhere I travel.

Favorite protein bars:  And best price on the internet.

Favorite Blogs:  Financial and Life.

Get 13.3% cash back on large purchases

I had to drop about $3,000 for business on an annual charge.  I found out instead of paying with a check, I could use credit card.  So I found a credit card with a $400 sign-up bonus.  To save you the work, here’s a link to the best resource I found to save having to repeat the research energy:  http://www.nerdwallet.com/blog/top-credit-cards/best-credit-card-offers.

My goal is to cancel the card after I get my cash back and then repeat the process with each major purchase with other rewards programs.  I love free money.

Note:  You have to plan 7-10 days ahead because that’s how long it takes for the card to show up.

Movement to end the Electorate College: The data

With the US Presidential Election decided by essentially 7-10 swing states, a movement has started to do away with the all-or-nothing Electorate College.  Instead, a growing group of states has signed a pact to distribute their Electorate College votes proportionally based on the popular vote of each state.

Image

This map shows where each state is at in the process.  11 states have already signed the legislation into law, including California and Washington.  Colorado looks like the next on deck.  Then there are 10 more that have gotten the legislation through one state house.  The magic number is to get 270 Electorate Votes to support it.  This change would fundamentally shift the American Presidential election process.  The question is, how close are we?  We’re already at 165 already (passed) and if you add in the states that are at stage 4 & 5 of the process in the map above, that number jumps to 250!

But the initial analysis masks an important trend.  Note ALL of the states that had passed it are D leaning states.  Not only that, they were some of the most liberal states in the union.  Conversely, the states that have advanced this process the least and are at Stage 1 or 2 on the map above (Bills introduced only & Hearings held) are almost all R-leaning or swing states (who love the hundreds of millions elections pour into their state).  If you love to see the data yourself, I created a table which shows how polarizing the issue is.  It can be viewed here.  Note the heavy biases by political leaning.

Apparently, the move towards a “popular vote” system is one that D’s feel will help them win and R’s feel will be detrimental, and swing states regardless of leaning don’t support.  To tighten the original estimation, I reexamined the states in that 250 number and looked for D leaning states that had would pass the law into action but would be blocked by a Republican governor.  Also, I subtracted the states that were at Stage 4 of the process, but lean R.

The final analysis at the bottom of the table shows:

PopularVoteMapTableSummary

In summary, it appears that while it has garnered significant and growing support, that support has been highly partisan and this legislation is unlikely to garner the widespread bi-partisan support needed to pass it in the near future.  Even looking at an upper bounds if everything were perfect, at 222 it still falls substantially short.

Great continued reading on which states get screwed by the Electorate College.  Hint Wyoming residents are counted 3:1 over the most screwed state.

 

Bitcoins: The IRS ruling shifts the game

bitcoin precious image

The IRS recently issued a ruling  that imposes severe taxes on Bitcoins that significantly change the ROI/breakeven analysis for anyone involved in Bitcoins.

The IRS essentially decided to charge taxes on 100% of the value of each bitcoin when it is made.  Before, most Bitcoin miners assumed that taxes would only occur when Bitcoins were converted from Bitcoins to US currency.  Now you instantly have a “loss of value” of 28% – 43% of your investment as soon as it comes into existence.  But it’s a little different.  It looks like a $100 investment taxed at 28% must go up 28% to cover the 28% in taxes.  Harsh.  But that’s not fully accurate, because the IRS taxes the 28% increase as well.  So assuming it’s sold within a year (short-term capital gains), at a 28% bracket, it must appreciate 39% for a Bitcoin to be break even.  Best case scenario, at 15% long-term capital gains it must go up 33%.  At $600 a bitcoin would have to rise to $798 (long term) to $834 (short term) just to be break even.
Essentially the IRS ruling is reasonably destructive to the currency.  It’s also a double edged sword.  My father (a tax attorney) thinks that the ruling will be challenged and overturned.  So, do you pay taxes and avoid penalties (which by any metric are severe and would make these number even worse) or do you wait, and see if the ruling is overturned and hope they redefine Bitcoin as currency?
And all of this presumes stability of the Bitcoin “property” / “currency”.  This is a great graph of bitcoin’s changing value  (Change the time measurement to 1D).  In the last few months it has fallen from 1163 to 450.  This changing stability of course could make the percentages above even different.

Free real time credit monitoring (because paying is for suckas)

CreditScoreReportHistoryI found out how to get free real-time monitoring!  In this day and age credit score is tied to everything – home loans, insurance, qualifying for a rental — shoot, some employers use it to gauge how “responsible” you are likely to be for hiring!

If you’re about to apply for a loan – credit score may suddenly be in your awareness, but if not, most people fly blind for years until the need arises again.

I learned the downside of not monitoring my credit score the hard way.  Twice.  And the crazy thing is both times my credit got hit, they were just errors!  I had a loan on auto-draft at a national bank and their system failed to pull the funds even though there was plenty of money in a checking account.  At their bank.  No one there knows what happened.  It just didn’t work.  My credit got destroyed.  I discovered this not when they filed me as delinquent but later when I needed a loan (aka, I need the money now).  Then I was jammed up for months until the mistake was reversed and it processed through the credit systems.  This happened twice.

I decided monitor my credit score was worth the money.  At first, it cost $120 a year, then $150, and then $200.  But I discovered it can now be had for FREE!  Here’s what to do:

1.  Register at creditsesame.com and your Experian credit report will be monitored for free.  Click Alerts to setup automatic notifications.

2.  Register at creditkarma.com and your TransUnion credit report will be monitored for free.  Email notifications are already automatic.

3.  Go to annualcreditreport.com to get a free, full credit report each year.

4.  Call previous credit monitoring service and cancel.

Total time:  <15 minutes.  No cost.  Credit score domination.