Exploring Language Trends for Good Writing

I’m probably behind the times, per usual, but I just watched the “What we learned from 5 million books” TED talk: a talk by researchers who used Google Book’s repository to run statistical queries on language usage. They explore how the language shows censorship and propaganda efforts, how our memory is shrinking, and the switch in usage from “throve” to “thrived” among other topics.

It’s really quite interesting, both from a subject-matter standpoint and the witty presentation. Here, watch it for yourself:

Generally, I’d just share this on social media and be done talking about it, but I was in the midst of authoring a short bit of character building for a costume project (my creative process is a bit strange, yes). That writing may never see the light of day, but it did make me wonder about whether some of my phrasing fit the character—an educated British individual circa 1885 (albeit in an alternate reality).

Take the phrase “needs must,” which sounds deliciously antiquated to our ears. Graphed it in Google Ngrams, that makes sense—though never immensely popular, it has seen a pretty steady decline in usage from the late 19th century through the present. My character might use it, however.

The vignette focuses on my character meeting a journalist, but would she have called the journalist a “journalist”? Possibly, but it is more likely that she’d use the term “correspondent”.

And when they meet? Well, one of them might say “pleased to make your acquaintance,” or perhaps “pleased to meet you,” but “nice to meet you” would be very unlikely according to the Ngram viewer.

When writing period pieces, it’s worth the effort to your readers and craft to cull blatantly anachronistic phrases from your writing. Not to mention, if you’re stuck on something, you can play around with alternatives to see what might be a more timely fit.

After all, we wouldn’t want our writing to fit the message of this XKCD comic:

XKCD Period Speech

Do you grok me? Go explore Google Ngrams on your own. You never know what you might find.

Sartorial Stitchery Becomes raevenfea: Simply Stitchery

Some things age more gracefully than others. This was first posted 5 years ago, so caveat lector. Links may be broken, things may be wrong (this is the internet, after all), and you may be better off finding more recent and relevant content. Blogs are rarely graceful on a good day, let alone after a few years.

Just a heads up out there: Sartorial Stitchery has moved to its own domain.

For those of you who don’t follow my stitchery adventures, nothing has changed in your world.

For those of you who subscribe to the Omnibus RSS feed and do like reading about my sewing stuff, unfortunately you’re going to have to add another feed to your reader for the time being: raevenfea.com/feed/.

I hope to somehow integrate the two back together in the future, but no ETA on that any time soon.

Sartorial Stitchery was not only misnamed, but had outgrown this shared space, so it was time to give it its own home (I already owned the domain, with nothing on it).

The design is still rough, and a few more articles need to be moved over, but it’ll be growing over the next few months!

TurboTax Free vs. Freedom, 2010 edition

Some things age more gracefully than others. This was first posted 5 years ago, so caveat lector. Links may be broken, things may be wrong (this is the internet, after all), and you may be better off finding more recent and relevant content. Blogs are rarely graceful on a good day, let alone after a few years.

Last year, I posted “Don’t Let TurboTax Free Edition Fool You—You Probably Want FREEDOM Edition,” and it is one of the most often viewed posts on this site. Here’s the update for 2010. In short, before you try the Federal Free Edition, make sure you don’t qualify for Freedom Edition, which will allow you to file more than 1040-EZ and also allow you to file your state for free (in participating states).

Freedom Edition: Do you qualify?

  • Your AGI is under $31,000 (same as last year)
  • You are/were active duty military in 2010 with an AGI under $58,000 (up from last year)
  • You qualify for the Earned Income Credit (EIC) Find out if you qualify at IRS.gov

If any of these are true for you, try the TurboTax Freedom edition.

If you do qualify, you can also file for free in these states: AL, AR, AZ, GA, IA, ID, KY, MI, MN, MO, MS, NY, NC, ND, OK, OR, RI, SC, VA, VT, WV.

What are you waiting for? Head over to the IRS Free File portal today!

The IRS Free File program

TurboTax Federal Free is not associated with the IRS’ Free File program, which allows anyone with an Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) of $58,000 or less e-file for free, including some state returns. TurboTax Freedom is.

TurboTax Freedom has stricter limits than the Free File program, so you may want to explore your options and choose another online preparer if your AGI is over $31,000.

The Free File page can help you choose the preparer that is right for you. Make sure to check if your chosen preparer will allow you to file your state income taxes as well.

More good news: because the normal deadline falls on Emancipation Day, meaning gov’t offices are closed to receiving mail and processing returns, you have until April 18 this year to file your taxes.

What’s the real difference?

For the most part, both programs step you through the process of filing, helping you make sure that you claim all the credits and deductions that you qualify for. Freedom Edition, since it isn’t restricted to Form 1040-EZ, has many more options and will allow you to itemize deductions, claim small business income, and capital gains or losses. Federal Free edition is very limited in what it will allow you to claim beyond the standard exemptions. You can’t itemize deductions at all.

What made me notice the difference is the cost of filing for state income taxes: Freedom Edition allows you to file states for free, so long as they also participate in the Free File program. Federal Free edition charges you $27.95 for each state.

Freedom edition does not have as nice of an interface, though, so if you want to be wowed by pretty graphics (at the expense of not filing for free), it’s not the program for you.

I am not a licensed tax preparer or financial professional of any kind. If you have questions about your taxes, you should consult a qualified tax professional. This is simply my observation based on my own research for filing my own taxes. This is also in no way sponsored by the IRS or Free File program. I just want everyone to be as educated as possible.

You just got a 2% pay increase! Use it wisely.

Some things age more gracefully than others. This was first posted 5 years ago, so caveat lector. Links may be broken, things may be wrong (this is the internet, after all), and you may be better off finding more recent and relevant content. Blogs are rarely graceful on a good day, let alone after a few years.

…well, kind of, sort of. On Dec. 17, Congress agreed to extend many of the Bush-era tax cuts, which is generally pretty awesome in the more-money-in-my-pocket way but not so much in the holy-staggering-national-debt-increase-Batman! way. In addition to the extensions is what I’ll call Making Work Pay 2.0 (officially the Tax Relief Act)—a employee payroll tax decrease.

The payroll tax, more commonly known as the Social Security tax, is normally 6.2% of your gross income. Everyone who earns money by legal, non-tax-avoiding ways pays this, no ifs-ands-or-buts, although if you make more than $106,800, your maximum tax is $6,621. For 2011, the tax for employees is reduced to 4.2% (a max savings of $2,136). If you’re self-employed, you’ll still have to pay the full employer-side 6.2% for a total of 10.4% instead of 12.4%. And if you’re an employer, you still have to pay 6.2% for each of your employees.

So, that begs the question: what are you going to do with it?

I’ve already made my decision—it’s going straight into my retirement account. I figure I might as well save for my own retirement while I’m getting a reprieve from paying for someone else’s. The proper paperwork has been signed, sealed and delivered. I waffled about this or paying off debt faster, but I’ll have my over-5%-interest consumer debt all taken care of by the end of January, and I expect that my retirement returns will be higher than that in the long run. It just makes financial sense. After all, thanks to compounding interest, your early 20s is a great time to start saving for retirement.

What’s your plan, Stan?

One note of import: since it’s all very last minute, your employer has until Jan. 31 to fix their payroll system so that the money goes in your check instead of to the government. This means you may not see an increase until February. Then, your employer has until Mar. 31 to give you whatever they owe you from not having the system set up correctly in January.

Shakespeare in OP

I’m not really a theatre nerd, but I am a bit of a history and language nerd even if I have very little background in either. And like any liberal arts-studied lady, I do have an appreciation for The Bard. So, I am totally in nerd lust with the University of Kansas right now*. Why? They’re putting on a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the original pronunciation (or as near as we can glean it sounded based on research of dialects and rhyming schemes). This is the first production of its kind in America, and only the fourth modern one ever.

How different is it from modern pronunciation? Well, that depends on what English you speak.

Meier said audiences will hear word play and rhymes that “haven’t worked for several hundred years (love/prove, eyes/qualities, etc.) magically restored, as Bottom, Puck and company wind the language clock back to 1595.”

“The audience will hear rough and surprisingly vernacular diction, they will hear echoes of Irish, New England and Cockney that survive to this day as ‘dialect fossils.’ And they will be delighted by how very understandable the language is, despite the intervening centuries.”

The production is going on during November, so I’m sad that I can’t see it, but evidently they plan on recording it in radio-drama form that will be available online in the future. Here’s a little preview to get your blood rushing:

For the super-nerds out there (like me), Professor Meier has provided a free e-book with links to sound files that explain the pronunciation differences. And if you are in the Kansas City/Lawrence area, lucky you!

Thanks to The History Blog and Jason Kottke for the heads up.

* For those of you outside of the Kansas/Missouri area, this is just a warning that said lust could get me disowned from my family. See, despite the civil war having ended almost 150 years ago, the border war is very much alive in MO-KAN: the border war between KU and MU, that is (and K State when they’re feeling feisty). I’m pretty “meh” about it all, seeing as I went to some hoity-toity lib arts college up here in NY, but since most my family is from the Missouri side of Kansas City, I’m expected to be a die-hard Mizzou fan. But MU is going to have to step up their seduction if they want to keep me, is all I’m saying. My grandpa was a K State alum and my sister is currently an MU student—well, MU’s redheaded step-child down in Rolla, MO—so in theory I should have a deeply ingrained dislike for KU. My bad.

Saving “Special” For a Rainy Day…

…that is exactly 74ºF at noon with partial sun from 1 pm–2:05:47 pm and a temperature drop to 72º after 4:16 pm. Do you save things that are “special,” planning to use them when just the right opportunity comes along? Especially things that have “unspecial” versions that you use more often? I do. Or, did. No, still do. But, it’s one of those things that I’m working on as part of the decluttering process, because when it comes down to it, those things are both physical and mental clutter.

For many years—as long as I can remember, actually—I’ve had the hoarding-lite habit of saving certain items that I really like with the idea that they’re too good for every day use, so I keep them for a “special day,” whatever that is. Like, the beautiful correspondence paper that my host family in Japan gave me; I’ve only used it for one or two seemingly special letters. In college, I’d save the last application or two of my rare bottle of Aveeno lotion for months while I used cheaper stuff. I’d save certain blank paper stock for just the case when I needed to print on that type of fancy media. The list goes on.

I realized that my reasons for doing this often fell under the same few reasons, over and over again.

Scarcity
If I use it now, I won’t be able to get the same thing in the future. The great thing about our consumerist world is that there are billions of products. Millions of these products are almost exactly like at least one other product, except for perhaps packaging or name. Even if you’re am unable to find that exact product in the future, surely you can find a similar—and probably better—one. But what if…? No, there are no what ifs in a decluttered, happy life.

The wonderful thing about the Internet is you can find almost anything for sale. Even if you live in the middle of nowhere, as long as you can receive mail, you can buy things. So, that beautiful Japanese paper isn’t really that scarce after all.

Cost
This is expensive, and I can’t afford to buy it all the time, so I just use it for special occasions. Part of being decluttered and happy is being smart with money. You need money to buy stuff, and when you aren’t buying random stuff, you have more money to spend on other stuff. Take that Aveeno lotion that I hoarded in college. Yes, it’s more expensive than some other types, but it does work better for my skin. But so does the similar formula store brand (see Scarcity). If you can’t afford the nice version, see if the cheaper version is just as good. A lot of times it is. Then maybe you don’t need the more expensive version.

Of course, the cheaper version might not even matter, because if you’re being financially smart, maybe you can afford the expensive version all the time, or even half the time. And if you’re not hoarding it, you are using it all, meaning you’re buying that type of product less often. Unused product socked away means you’re spending more money buying stuff you don’t actually need. (Or shop smart and use coupons when all else fails.)

Sentimentality
So-and-so gave this to me, so I don’t want to use it because it reminds me of them. This is the bane of declutterers the world over. If someone gives you a gift that is a consumable product, they intend for you to use it. (And if they don’t, well, it’s probably time to explore why you allow them to give you “gifts” instead of gifts.) You’ll be reminded of them while you’re using it. You’ll be reminded of them when you think about how happy you were when you used it. You’ll be reminded of them when you buy more for yourself because you liked it. The list goes on.

When you’re hoarding things away for a rainy day, they’re taking up room both physically and mentally. Sooner or later, you end up with all these “special” things and not enough special days. Or maybe too many special days and not enough “special” things. What will you do then, huh?

So, for the optimists in the crowd: why are you saving it? Every day can be a special day.

For the pessimists: why are you saving it? There might never be a special day.

For the realists out there: why are you saving it? It’s just taking up space and isn’t really all that special anyway.

I’m making progress. For instance, Carl’s awesome cousin gave me this amazing bath salt and lotion set last Christmas. Rather than saving it for a day that was “special,” I used it almost every day until I ran out. I was happy when I used it, not regretful. Of course, the empty bottle sat around cluttering up the bathroom for a while because I kept wanting to look up how to get more. Then I took a picture of the label (digital clutter, but less than physical) and threw out the bottle. That also made me happy, because I had less clutter. Now I just need to figure out how to buy more of it (it’s a local that produces it near his cousin, I think. I’ll follow up with her when we visit for Thanksgiving).

So, my friends who share this problem, I bestow on you this task: go use something special today. Then, come tell us about how happy it makes you, and how relieved you are that it’s been put to good use, and how it decluttered your life. And work on it every day until you break the habit, just like I’m trying to do.

How Bad Does it Hurt? Closing Your Oldest Credit Card

I came home a few weeks ago to an ominously large envelope from 1st Financial Bank, USA, the guarantor of my oldest credit card—too large to be the statement or those deplorable fee-heavy cash advance checks they send me. You may remember from my grousing a while back that 1FB was guilty of pretty much every shady tactic outlawed by the CARD Act that recently went into effect, and how happy I was to finally pay the card off. Well, know that they’ve been forced to stop double-cycle billing, roving due dates, and other money-making tactics, they have a new way of making money: annual fees.

The new annual fees? $25, $45 for limits over $1000. Although based on their wording, there’s no guarentee that they’ll charge you. In fact, when I called up to cancel, I was told You know, your annual fee can be waived on a yearly basis, upon request. So, it sounds like they’re planning on making most of their money on the inattentive that never bother to call in.

I have no intentions of potentially paying $45 annually for a card to sit in my wallet virtually unused, nor bother with calling in yearly. The only reason I still have the card is that it is my oldest (by a year), and has the highest credit limit. Those two factors supposedly help my credit score out quite a bit. Especially the high limit, which accounts for over half of my available credit. I’ve seen first hand how a high debt-credit ratio can bring down your score, so I don’t relish the thought of halving my available credit (and doubling my current debt-credit ratio). But does the fact that it is my oldest card count? After all, even closed, it will remain on my record as a closed account for the next few years. And should I even be worrying about my credit score? After all, I’m working on getting out of debt, not taking more on. I have a newish car (2007), and with a paltry 20k miles on it to date, I’m sure I won’t be needing another one for quite a while. We decided that a mortgage isn’t in the cards any time soon—it’s cheaper to rent here in Utica, and we’re not sure we want to stay long-term anyhow. So, why do I even need an excellent score? The answer? I probably don’t.

So, I “rejected the change to my account,” which is their euphemism for “you won’t play our profit game, so we force you to tell us to close the account.” And then I waited anxiously for them to report to the credit bureaus to see how much my score was affected.

The Score Hit

I started out with a 769 TransUnion score, which is considered an excellent score by Credit Karma. That’s actually quite a change since this time last year, mostly due to paying off the 1FB account and bringing down my debt-credit ratio quite a bit. Since that ratio is what is going to take the biggest hit with this cancellation, it did have me a bit worried.

The resulting score: 761.

So, not much of a hit at all. But, despite my worry before closing, I’m now at peace: I have one fewer card to worry about losing/having stolen, and will have to spend that much less time reviewing and filing statements (1FB jumped on the paperless bandwagon a mere month before I closed the account). And, by the time I’m ready to apply for a mortgage, my debt-credit ratio will be ~0, so the score will be back up.

The moral of the story? In my situation, at least, the myth that closing your oldest credit card will severely effect your credit rating doesn’t seem to hold true. What does cause issues is the drop in debt-credit ratio from losing the available credit on the card. If you’re young, and have a pretty good history, there’s no good reason to not consider dropping your oldest card if the bank gives you reason. A slightly lower score is still better than paying a high annual fee for no rewards and no features.

I know 1FB USA isn’t the only bank out there that has started charging annual fees. Have you had any surprise changes to your accounts since the CARD Act went into effect?

Great Time to Start an IRA

“You’re in your early 20s. That’s too early to start thinking about retirement.” Wrong. So completely wrong. Now is the best time to think about retirement. Sure, it’s a long way off, but even a small percent of your salary can mean a nice bit of savings in the long run thanks to the power of compounding interest.

Start an IRA

I was inspired to write this post because ING/Sharebuilder is offering FREE automatic investments for the year when you start a new IRA with them before 15 Apr 2010. I already have a Roth IRA with them, but I decided to start another one. Those normal $4 commissions really add up and put a dent in returns, especially when saving as little as I am, and if I can get all of those transfers for free for a year, well, I’m gosh darn gonna try! The promotion applies to both Roth and Traditional IRAs as well as Rollover Roths.

If you’re not interested but are considering opening up a non-IRA account with them, leave a comment to that affect and I’ll pass along a referral that nets me five free investment trades and you $25 to invest.

Why?

As I said, compounding interest is amazing for growing money. I started my Roth IRA just a few months before my 23rd birthday. There’s not a lot of money in there, because I only put in $50/month right now while I pay off debt. At $4/trade, that’s a lot of fees in relation to the investment, so I started doing the investment every other month at $100 for now, until I can bump up my monthly contribution. But let’s run some numbers about what I’m gaining by even my paltry investment.

In my calculations I’m considering a really low return: 5%. Historically, smartly invested funds will net about 10% in the market over the time we’re talking about before retirement. At 5%, we should barely beat inflation. But, this requires investing in the market or things like bonds, not letting it sit in your local bank savings account or CD.

Effect of Compound Interest
Starting age Monthly investment Money invested Interest earned Total value at age 65 Monthly to match age 23 Increased investment Interest earned
I’m rounding. Numbers aren’t precise, but close.
23 $50.00 $25,200 $60,724 $85,500
33 $50.00 $19,200 $28,236 $47,436 $ 90.00 $34,560 $50,940
43 $50.00 $13,200 $10,867 $24,067 $178.00 $46,992 $38,508
53 $50.00 $ 7,200 $ 2,679 $ 9,879 $433.00 $62,352 $23,148

I’m using simple math here. Compounding annually, ignoring inflation, conservative return, ignoring commissions.

What does this show us? By saving $50 a month in an investment vehicle that is only returning 5%, starting at age 23, you get over $60,000 interest on top of your principal. If you wait 10 years, starting at age 33, that free money shrinks to only a little over $28k. Meanwhile, if you plan to have $85,500 in the bank at 65 like you would had you started at 23, you’ll have to bump up your monthly contribution to $90, and you’re still losing out on $10k in interest. And that return shrinks exponentially the longer you wait.

If you don’t believe me, play around with this calculator. It’s simple, but simplicity at it’s best: it’s very clear about the differences between starting now and starting later, with nothing fancy to confuse the fact.

N.B. The savings I’m talking about here is on top of any employer-based retirement plan if one with matching is available. If you’re not already contributing enough to get the employer match if you have one, you’re doing things wrong. Obviously, saving $50/month for retirement isn’t going to secure you a nest egg. Even my full retirement savings, currently around 7.6% of my income including a 3% employer match won’t set me up for retirement. I know I have to step it up once I pay down debt. But based on these numbers, the money I’m saving now is miles beyond better than saving nothing, don’t you think? So, why not start now?

But, I’m in debt!

I argue that even being in debt is no excuse not to start saving. With a caveat: If you’re so in debt that you’re paying minimum balances, pause retirement savings. You need to set up a budget, forgo some luxuries and pay off debt so that you can start saving. But I’m not a financial adviser. If you really are struggling that much, you need to go see one.

Don’t Let TurboTax Free Edition Fool You—You Probably Want FREEDOM Edition

TurboTax touts their Free Edition’s free-ness. Free to use, free to file. Free for Federal, that is (1040EZ only). Then, they try to up-sell you on filing State for $27.95. What they probably don’t want you to notice is that the Free Edition has nothing to do with the Free File program offered by the IRS, which TurboTax does participate in. But I noticed. Especially one year in while in college when I had to file in three different states, all of which allowed Free E-Filing.

Some of the numbers have changed. View the 2010 update.

Do You Meet One These Criteria?

  • AGI of 31k or less, or
  • Active Military with AGI of 57k or less, or
  • you qualify for the Earned Income Credit

Congratulations, you should probably use Freedom edition if you are planning on using TurboTax.

The IRS Free File program has its limits, as does TurboTax Freedom edition. For the former, you’re only eligible if you had an AGI of $57k or less in 2009. For TurboTax, it’s even more stringent: $31k AGI (for single filers). Additionally, if you own a house, own a business, have a lot of investments/capital gains/losses or donate a lot to charity and you don’t pay attn. to tax laws on your own or don’t care to, neither of TurboTax’s free editions are right for you. There are other companies that offer robust solutions through the Free File program that don’t have the same income limits (Freedom) or restrictions to 1040EZ (Free).

Why should I care?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to pay $30 to file my state taxes. Freedom edition allows you to do it for free in states that allow for free e-filing.

Additionally, while 1040EZ will suffice for some people, many others have more difficult tax needs and thus need access to the 1040, which is provided by the Freedom edition, but not Free edition.

But, I don’t see that option on TurboTax’s Web Site!

Yes, they’re rather sneaky like that. In order to access the Freedom edition, you have to go through the IRS Free File Portal. The IRS provides a nice tool to help you choose a preparer, but you can also choose to go to TurboTax directly. The link to TurboTax will allow you to use the Freedom Edition, where things really are free.

I can’t speak with any amount of authority, but I believe the same process is true for some of the other tax companies as well. So, if you do have an AGI under $57k, it’d be smart to head over to the IRS Free-File page and access the online tax applications from there. They provide a list of participating companies, the limitations of each, and a link to the correct free edition.

My Opinion of 1st Financial Bank, USA: Steer Clear

In honor of paying off my oldest/highest-interest credit card balance (woohoo, halfway through my CC debt!), I thought I’d share some thoughts on the card issuer—1st Financial Bank, USA. Particularly, why I think it is an exceptionally shady lender that preys on financially-uneducated students. Sure, most credit card lenders are shady, but few target students to the extent of 1FB.

Is there any good?

Before I bash them, I will admit to a couple of good things: they allowed me to found a credit history at age 18 and raised my limit like clockwork every 6 months, allowing me to maintain a decent debt/credit ratio. Except, maybe that latter bit wasn’t that “good.” I mean, do they really expect a college student to have the means to pay back ~12k? No, definitely not, but 1FB can make a decent chunk of fees if one were to charge up that amount. For the record, I never hit anywhere near that limit.

The Bad

They make it hard to pay and hard to know when to pay by providing jumping due dates, outdated Web access, no option for e-statements, no financial education tools, and limited telephone customer service hours. Maybe some research firm told them that it was good business sense for Generation Y to have access to account information via text message, but to lack a robust online portal, who knows, but if they did, they were told wrong. Regardless of my critique of their technological presence, the real issue is that they exhibited about every bad practice outlawed by the recently-passed CARD act, and are retaliating with painful rate increases and feature removal.

Preemptive CARD Act Changes

Two words: 24.99% APR. Yes, in anticipation of the CARD act coming into effect, they raised my interest rate by 10%! in October. 14.99% wasn’t great to begin with, but 25% is usury in most states (but not SD, where 1FB is based). Also, in addition to the general overdraft/late fee raising that most banks are doing, they also removed the one “reward” type feature of the card: 0% on balances below $250 (or $500 for other cards of theirs).

A good thing? They did remove double-cycle billing. Of course, it wasn’t out of the kindness of their blackened hearts; ceasing double-cycle billing is one of the major dictates of the CARD act.

When Is My Bill Due?

On the nth of the month, give or take a week. My due date constantly bounces around. It is generally somewhere early in the month, but has ranged from the 5th to the 16th. It’s a great way to trap the inattentive (or busy!) student into a late fee.

And a newer development: The online FAQ provides the following about information available online:

1FBUSA Online Services provides easy access to the following information about your credit card account: your credit limit, current account balance, amount of your last payment, date last payment received, your available credit, last statement balance and date, minimum payment due, payment due date, next billing statement date, and next billing statement payment due date. Transactions posted since the date of your last statement are also available, …

[Emphasis Mine]

However, after recent site updates, they no longer provide either a next billing statement date or the next due date. It may seem like unimportant information, but I would like to know the exact date I can see the final finance charges due on my account. Not to mention I prefer to pay the account as close as possible to the statement date, rather than the due date.

How do I pay my bill?

Oh, sorry, we’re still in the 20th century. Mail us a check with your statement stub, please. Your bank does online payments? Well, that’s some newfangled thing they’ve never heard of (ok, a little exagerated, they do provide an ACH program you can enroll in), but the bank can send them a paper check instead of an electronic payment. That’s what ING Direct does for me. The downside there is that despite it being free for me (one of the great ING features), it takes about a week to post, depending on the date 1FB receives it, since it doesn’t have the remittance stub with it, just the acct # on the check..

What about paying online or by phone, like most any decent credit card? Sure, for a $9 charge. I guess it’s the lesser of two evils: forget to send your payment and tomorrow is the due date? No problem, just pay $9 to make a payment on their Web site. Think that’s ridiculous? NP, you can just pay the higher late fee.

Want some human compassion/courtesy? Fuggetaboutit.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think it’s the bank’s responsibility to forgive fees right and left or for every sob story, but pretty much anywhere will give you one late payment fee pass, especially if you pay on time consistently. Does that include 1FB? Not in my experience, and I didn’t even hit the dreaded 30-day past, report to the Credit Bureaus point, just 15 days or so.

A few years ago, my grandmother passed away during December finals, right before the payment due date. The following two weeks were a mess—flying home for the funeral, flying back to school to finish my finals, driving home for the month break between semesters (and you had to be out, out, out! of the dorms within 24 hrs. of your last final). True, it’s my responsibility to pay my bill, but obviously, I was a little distracted. I forgot to send in payments for both of my cards. Two weeks go by and I realize my mistake, and send in the payments, then make the dreaded call to request forgiveness of the late fee with my story. Chase: “Sorry for your loss, miss. I see you’ve paid on time in the past. We’ll remove that fee right away as a one-time courtesy. Thank you for calling.” 1FB: “Errr, you paid late. That means a fee. You need to pay it. Yeah, you’ve always paid on time before, but it doesn’t matter. Have a nice day.”

Maybe they decided to take the tough-love approach to creating dependable borrowers. Sure.

What Can You Do About It?

If you have a 1FB card, get it paid off (consider transferring the balance to a new company’s card), find a different card to use every day, and consider closing your account. But don’t close it if it is your oldest account—that will likely hurt your credit score. If you don’t already have a 1FB card, don’t get one!

Update: closing the account might not hurt your score as much as they try to make you think it will. Read about how (not) bad it hurt my credit score to close this account in June 2010.

If you’re a just-entering-college student, verse yourself in financial literacy. Don’t use the card except for small things that you pay off monthly. And that advice applies to any card, not just 1FB-issued ones.

If you’re a parent of a young-adult, please educate them on how to handle their finances, and if possible find a way to get them a card with a company that has some sort of conscience, no matter how small it is. Any other bank seems a little better than 1FB USA.

Of course, in a dream world, we wouldn’t need to worry about getting a credit card at 18, but unfortunately, credit history is important once you graduate and enter the real world, and that’s about the only place to start.