New phone carriers

Yes, carriers – plural.

We had been with T-Mobile for about 12 years. Our monthly bill, for a family plan of two, had averaged out to around $75/month for the past couple of years. Not bad. We were grandfathered into an old plan and didn’t quite think much about it.

But starting this year, T-Mobile dropped the corporate discount we used to get. Monthly bill jumped to $84. Just a $9 increase, still it got me thinking if other comparable options were out there with a lower cost.

After a bit of research and a lot of procrastinating, we finally pulled the trigger to switch in August.

W went with Google FI. You pay $20 for unlimited calls and texts, and $10/GB of data used. One month cost was $32. This is post paid with users only paying for the amount of data they use. Coverage is quite possibly even superior to Verizon as Google FI uses combination of any available network and wi-fi spots. Can keep old number.

M went with Mint Mobile. This is a prepaid MVNO operating on the T-Mobile network. They have “free” unlimited talk and text on all of their plans. You “only” pay for data. Paid upfront $66 for 6 month, with 8 GB of 4G LTE data every month. That works out to $11 a month. This is a promotional offer that anyone can avail. Regular priced plans start at $15/month for 12 months, for 3 GB of data every month; and other combinations of number of months and data limits – all prepaid. Coverage is same as T-Mobile. Can keep old number.

By switching we have effectively cut our phone bill in half, with same or better coverage. Boom.

Found a gem – Penny and Rich

Once in a while you come across something so delightful that you can’t help but share. Happened to me yesterday, when I stumbled upon this riot of a blog – Penny and Rich.

Rich and Penny are cousins, supposedly. According to their About Me page, they grew up in a small town in the Midwest, close to each other. Rich is, well, rich. With a family income of $250k, Rich lives with his wife and twin boys in an expensive city in the East Coast. Penny, with her husband and 4 kids, live in the Midwest. And by the way, Penny is poor. $40k income. That is their combined family income to provide for 6 people. Their names are conveniently appropriate for their current state of affairs 😀

The blog is an open-letter-discourse between them. I find it fascinating. Both of them are excellent writers. They approach issues with very different mindsets and set of values. Their plan of actions are often at loggerheads with each other. The humor in their writing is organic, fresh, and to me, hilarious.

I don’t know them. I don’t know if they are real. I don’t know if some really intelligent group or person is using this as a live thought experiment,  presenting two arguments to the issues in personal finance space.

Earnest, SoFi, and CommonBond review

As mentioned in the last post, we consolidated the couple of outstanding student loans. To start the process, I looked to where most people turn to when looking for answers. Prof. Google. A quick search revealed some lenders who were consistently coming in top in most rankings such as Nerdwallet, USNews, and LendEdu.

On top of that, a few years ago MMM had published a post on how great SoFi was, at that time.

Decided to start off the process with SoFi, Earnest, and CommonBond. Tried LendKey as well, but they were pointing me to some credit unions implying the rates that were being offered were not by LendKey, so I dropped them from consideration.

Their online interface is the best I’ve seen. Not only is it pleasant to look at, the guiding questions were relevant and intuitive. They asked more questions, gathering information about me to build up a holistic profile. Whereas SoFi and CommonBond (it seemed as if) treated me as a typical graduate, coming out of grad school, Earnest saw that I was part time student with a full time job. They took into account the steady source of income; the meaty bank, 401(k), and brokerage accounts. They offered me 3.25% 5-year fixed.
Pros: Lowest rate; quick turnaround; great customer support; approved loan
Cons: Can’t think of any. Might have got a better rate if I’d gone for variable (as we intend to pay it in a few months) but that is mostly a call I took
Verdict: Clear winner

Simple online process. They offered me a 4.125% 5-year fixed. That seemed to be high, but okay. I didn’t take them out of consideration. Then they started asking for additional documents. I complied. Then they started sending out texts and emails about how they need the degree to process the loan. I told them I don’t have the degree yet. The coursework is complete but I’ll only get the degree in June of this year. I uploaded my official transcripts which clearly indicated all my course requirements have been met. I eventually mailed the CEO about my unhappiness with the process and the rate they offered. Someone called me back in an hour apologizing that I was frustrated enough to reach out the CEO. But they couldn’t offer any solution to the impasse. No degree, no consolidation. I asked them to withdraw my application.
Pros: Nice interface; would have got $300 bonus by using the MMM referral; fast turnaround
Cons: Highest rate; rigid rule; more documentation than others; pushy
Verdict: Last

Similar steps as SoFi, though the interface is not quite as polished. I had problems logging in a couple of times. The page uses a lot of CSS. They offered a 3.65% 5-year variable. But here again the dreaded degree-rule reared it’s head.
Pros: Lower rate
Cons: Slow turnaround; rigid rule; not a very pleasant interface; they ran my credit check as soon as I applied even before they could guarantee an approved loan (this pissed me off)
Verdict: Joint last

Note: If you are interested to apply for loans at Earnest, I have a code where you get a $200 sign-up bonus and I get $200 referral bonus. Please indicate in the comments section and I will reach out to you directly.