Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Credit reports information updated

With the recent news that Experian is ending its relationship with myFICO in the US, I decided to check the information in my free credit reports post.

Turns out that Northern Credit Bureaus (formerly an Experian-owned company) now operates in Canada as Experian Canada. The top-level URL remains the same, but my links to the credit report request forms were broken, so I've updated the post. There's now a one-page PDF form that you can print, fill out and mail to Experian's offices in Toronto.

The information for Equifax and TransUnion has not changed.

Updated: Free credit reports in Canada

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

A look at my accounts

Putting together my January recap, it occurred to me that it might be a good idea to post a summary of how my financial accounts are set up. I've already discussed my cash flow setup in some detail, but I haven't looked at the individual accounts that comprise the gears of my money machine.

Don't take this as a recommendation of how you should set up your own finances; in fact, I may very well see this exercise as an excuse to simplify my own financial life. At any rate, here's the rundown:

Chequing Accounts

  • Joint chequing account at a brick and mortar bank - This is the account into which my pay is deposited every two weeks, and our mortgage and loan payments all come out of this account automatically. You could call this the "hub" of my finances, as this is where money enters my life, and then moves out to the appropriate accounts and expenses.

  • Individual chequing account at a brick and mortar bank - I keep this account as my own personal spending money. After all of my savings and fixed expenses come out of the joint account, what's left of my paycheque is transferred into this account to be used for groceries, gas, etc.

Savings Accounts

  • Individual savings account at a brick and mortar bank - This account is currently empty, as it pays virtually no interest. I haven't used this in several months, and should probably just close it down.

  • Emergency Fund at ING Direct - This used to be my primary Emergency Fund account, until I moved the majority of my emergency savings to HSBC. I still keep a few hundred dollars in this account, and I have a bi-weekly automated transfer of $15 into this account from my payroll account.

  • Emergency Fund at HSBC Direct - Thanks to the myriad ways of using HSBC's savings account (you can essentially do anything short of writing a paper cheque), I decided to keep $1,000 of my Emergency Fund with them. I have an access card that gives me access to this account, and I can even pay bills from it if necessary. The balance has been slowly growing thanks to the $2-3 in interest that it earns each month, to the point that I now have nearly $1,040 in this account.

  • Emergency Fund at Canadian Tire Financial Services - I opened this account when I was reviewing high-interest savings accounts, and I basically hold $20 in the account just to keep it open. The rate is comparable to ING and HSBC, but it doesn't really serve much purpose in my financial life.

  • Emergency Fund at ICICI Bank - As with Canadian Tire, I opened this account just to see how it stacked up against the others. I have no complaints, but it's really a redundant account, with $20 earning pennies in interest each month.

  • Emergency Fund at Citizens Bank of Canada - What is wrong with me? Yet another duplicate account. I opened this to take advantage of a $50 promotion in the fall, and now I'm just keeping a balance of $150 in this account until they remove the hold in March.

  • Freedom Account at ING Direct - This is my most actively used savings account. This is where I stash money that I know I'll need in the near future, but not before my next paycheque. Condo fees, car insurance, cable and hydro bills are all paid from these savings, as well as clothing, subscriptions and car repairs. I use a spreadsheet to keep track of how much I have saved up in each category. $300 goes into this account every payday, and I transfer funds back out as needed.

  • Giving Account at ING Direct - Really just an extension of the Freedom Account, this is where I save up for birthdays and Christmas, as well as charitable donations. $100 gets socked away in this account every payday, and I also keep track of the categories in a spreadsheet.

  • "Fun" savings at ING Direct - Actually the first online savings account I ever opened, this is where I save up for "treats." I set aside $25 each payday in this account, and periodically wipe it out on something fun.

  • Wedding Fund at ING Direct - This is a regular ING savings account, and I have an automated transfer every payday into this account, as well as any ad hoc savings I manage to set aside for our big day.

  • Wedding Fund TFSA at ING Direct - Saving for a wedding represents a fair chunk of change, so I opened this account to take advantage of the tax-free interest earnings and flexible withdrawal rules.

Investment Accounts

  • Self-Directed RSP at discount brokerage
  • - This is where I hold my index funds. I'm due for a rebalancing in this account, and I'm just waiting for my year-end bonus to transfer over before I make the jump.
  • Group RRSP through my employer - This is where I purchase my employer's stock by payroll deduction. I set aside 6% of my paycheque in company stock, and they match 50% of my contribution.

  • Group DPSP through my employer - This is where my employer's matching contributions go, again purchasing company shares.

  • Group RRSP through my employer - This is a separate savings plan from the group RRSP listed above, with more flexible investment options and contribution methods. I defer a portion of my year-end bonus into this account to reduce my taxes owing (and save for retirement, of course!). I can hold company stock, index funds and cash in this account.

  • Non-registered trading account at discount brokerage - I'm still deep in the hole thanks to my consumer debt, so this account has been empty since I opened it. One day, however, I hope to enter the world of non-retirement investing.

Credit Cards

  • BMO Mosaik MasterCard with Air Miles - I've mentioned before that Air Miles are my reward program of choice. This card gives me one point for every $15 I spend, and it is my primary card, and the one with the highest limit.

  • VISA from a brick and mortar bank - I subscribe to the "have one of each" philosophy when it comes to credit cards, so I have this card for the rare situation where MasterCard isn't accepted.

  • American Express with Air Miles - AmEx is the only credit card accepted at Costco, so Costco ends up being pretty much the only place that I use this card. However, since these transactions usually come in at $150-300, being able to rack up rewards under the same reward program as my primary card is a nice benefit.

  • MBNA MasterCard with 0% prmotional APR - This is where most of my revolving debt currently sits. I'll have to pay this off within the next month when the 15-month promotion ends, at which point I'll either look for another 0% deal, or simply close down the account.

Line of Credit

  • Unsecured line of credit at a brick and mortar bank - Once the promotion on the 0% MBNA card ends, I'll pay it off with this account. I use this account to hold my revolving debt at a low interest rate. As I mentioned in past discussions of my cash flow, every time I use my credit card to buy something, I transfer that amount from my chequing account to this line of credit, and then pay the card from the line of credit at the end of the month. This saves me a fair amount in interest charges each month, since my line of credit balance is artificially lowered (essentially small-scale credit card arbitrage).

Term Loans

  • Mortgage at a brick and mortar bank - This is the original mortgage on our condo, which we're slowly chipping away at. It's up for renewal this summer, so we should be able to lock in a better rate than what we currently have.

  • Mr. Loonie's consolidated OSAP loans at a brick and mortar bank - I consolidated my student loans into a low-rate, 5-year loan back in 2006, and I'll be saying a fond farewell to this debt in February of 2011.

  • Ms. Loonie's consolidated OSAP loans at a brick and mortar bank - In the summer of 2007, we also consolidated Ms. Loonie's student loans, which will be paid off about a year after my own loans. By that point, we should be chugging along with nothing but a mortgage, and that is just fine by me!


Wow. I have a lot of accounts. Two chequing accounts, eleven (!) savings accounts, five investment accounts, four credit cards, a line of credit, a mortgage and two loans. That's 26 accounts in total. However, most of these accounts serve a very specific purpose. The only place I could really simplify is by closing down some savings accounts. Even here, I don't trust my money management quite enough to throw all my savings in a single pot, so I would want to maintain my Freedom Account separate from my Emergency Fund, and so forth.

The good news here is that I can account for every penny of my savings and my debt, and I have current login information for each account. I've even put together a "road map" that provides the relevant information for every account on this list. Still, I can't shake the feeling that I'm doing some significant juggling here, so I may need to look for ways to trim this system down over the next couple of years. I've put myself on the path to financial recovery by swinging pretty far to the OCD end of the spectrum, and now it may be time to start loosening my grip.

January update

January is over, and we're into the second month of 2009. Let's take a look at how I did with last month's goals:
  • Reduce my revolving debt to $14,800 - Bingo. I ended January at $14,791.24, a drop of over $400. Not a bad start to my year of debt reduction.

  • Grow my Emergency Fund to $1,650 - Another triumph: I'm currently sitting at $1,653.29. Not a huge growth from December's $1,589, but it's moving in the right direction.

  • Grow our Wedding Fund to $1,260 - I hit this one, too, ending the month at $1,318.03. We'll likely need to put down a deposit for a photographer within the next month or two, so it's nice to have this cushion set aside.

    NOTE: Since this money is earmarked to be spent on our wedding next year, any valid wedding expense that we pay for from this account will not reduce my progress on this goal. This may seem like funny accounting, but the real goal here is to pay cash for the wedding, so I don't plan to penalize myself for using these funds as intended.

  • Run an average of twice per week, and play squash at least once per week - Whoops. I did manage to play squash once a week, but only ran once, and briefly at that.

  • Try two new recipes, with a focus on doing as much as possible from scratch - Another flop. Our weekends ended up being far more chaotic last month than we anticipated, and although we weren't too bad about eating out, we didn't get to be creative in the kitchen.

  • Write detailed posts on three subjects - I did manage to churn out three posts (besides my update posts), but hardly the treasure trove of insight I was hoping to produce. Shall I now throw down the gauntlet and attempt to redeem myself during the year's shortest month?
Now, on to my month-end update:

Online Savings - $1,750.45
Self-Directed RSP - $29,744.12
Employer Group RSP - $13,164.00

Revolving Debt - $14,791.24
Student Loans - $22,315.18

Net Investable Assets: $7,552.15
Net Liquid Assets: ($35,355.97)

My liquid savings (which don't include our Wedding Fund, since this money is already pretty much spoken for) held steady, with some expenses coming out of the Freedom Account offsetting the Emergency Fund growth. This month saw a jump in my RRSP, due to my year-end bonus and some payroll contributions. These changes translated to a net increase of $4,590.72 in my investable assets, along with a $987.62 drop in my non-mortgage debt.

Overall, my net investable assets increased by $5,497.34, and my net liquid assets increased by $850.72. My NetworthIQ profile has also been updated (including loose cash, home, car and mortgage).