This is the first of a series of personal finance and investment articles mainly for American expats, though domestic residents and non-Americans will find it useful as well.
101 is a foundation for everyone, but particularly useful to those with student loans or other debt
201 is a primer to investment for those with no debt, or with savings of less than $10,000
301 is an examination of stocks for more sophisticated investors with savings of more than $3,000 and preferably more than $10,000
302 is an examination of bonds for anyone
The purpose of this series is not to teach you financial literacy. It is to give you the most basic steps you can take to eliminate debt/ increase your savings without asking you to make significant lifestyle changes. Most advice on how to pay off student loans involve preachy bullshit about removing your costly habits. Fuck that. Snort your coke, buy a new pack of D's for your vibrator, upgrade your iPhone.
EF 101 Intro to Personal Finances
'Borrow' a US address for this. All of these are free with no monthly charges. None of these companies pay me or know who I am.
1. Consolidate your money
Take five minutes to open a savings account with Ally.com. Keep all your USD here from now on. You get 6 free transactions a month. (Their money market account is the same thing but with the option of a debit card and checks. Just keep it simple and open a savings account.)
Why: Ally's interest rate of .9% is the highest it gets. To put it in perspective, Chase doesn't pay you that much for depositing a million dollars. Ally will give you .9% just for having ten. Ally is FDIC-insured and has an excellent web interface and customer service.
Look at your other options; They are pure shit.
2a. Get the right Korean Check Card and Bank Account
Open an Expat Savings Account at Korea Exchange Bank (KEB) with online banking. Ask for the Rainbow Check Card with the T-money chip to be mailed to your address if need be.
Why: Explained here.
2b. Connect your Korean and US account
Register the Account # and Routing #s of your US bank accounts for Online Banking. You do not need an Easyone account and I advise you not to open one.
Why: KEB is the best Korean bank for remittances. Global Wire Transfer Fees are 8,000 won for international transfers up to $5,000 and 10,000 won larger transfers. Easyone is more expensive but it allows you to remit money back home from ATMs. KEB has great customer service. Join the Facebook group.
Note:“Just in case” is not an acceptable reason to open an Easyone account. “I'm a lazy computer-illiterate” is the only acceptable reason.
3. Get a better way to travel
Open an investor checking account with Charles Schwab. Deposit your travel budget here two weeks before your trip.
Why: No foreign transaction fees, full refund on all ATM fees, unbelievable customer service. Load up this account with USD before vacations, because this is how you will exchange money from now on.
4. Keep track of your money
Make an account at Mint.
Why: This is an easy way to track all your bank accounts, spending, credit cards, bills, and debts.
5. Get a clear picture of how fucked you are
Make an account at Credit Sesame. This gives you a daily-updated estimate of your credit score without lowering it. It is like Mint but for your cash flow, credit, and debt instead of your account balances. Read Credit Sesame's advice. They make money through affiliate sales, so take their product suggestions with a grain of salt.
Why: The hassle of getting your actual credit score from a credit agency is unnecessary, this estimation is much more useful for our purposes. Credit Sesame will help you understand personal finance as well as encourage you by monitoring your climb out of debt.
A MESSAGE TO PEOPLE WITH BAD CREDIT:
If your score is low, don't feel bad. I once did this for an English teacher here and her score was in the ~400s (27 years old with multiple defaults on credit card debt, bank loans, student/grad student loans, wage garnishment, payment plans). A score that bad is virtually unheard of for white people. If my score was <600, I wouldn't even think about staying less than two years here, let alone think about buying a car or taking a vacation. At <500, sucking cock for quarters becomes economical. My point is, don't beat yourself up over having bad credit, there's always someone more fuckier than you.
6. Close up loose ends
Close all accounts that are now obsolete. Do NOT close credit cards that have no annual fees.
Why: You have a savings account, (Ally), you have a checking account (Schwab) and if you have another checking account for a credit card (Chase and Capital One are my favorite), that's all you need. Simplicity is very important to save you time. Time is the most valuable resource you will ever have- once you lose it you can never get it back. Keeping things simple will be a major theme in the following lessons on finance.
In 201 I will talk about basic investment options for expats. Working outside of the US has large implications on investing.