10-Minute Digital Privacy Tuneup from Consumer Reports

1plogoFollowing the news of the Yahoo hack of half a billion users (noted as the biggest data breach in history), you may be interested in some more tips regarding online security.

In their latest issue, Consumer Reports has a 10-minute digital privacy tune-up. Here are highlights and direct links for your convenience:

  • Turn on automatic software updates wherever available.
  • Use screen locks wherever available.
  • Check where else you’ve been hacked at haveibeenpwned.com. You’ve probably been pwned. Adobe and Dropbox for me.
  • Use temporary e-mail addresses. I tested their recommendation 10minutemail.com and I will definitely use it in the future for those “Give me your e-mail and get XXX” offers.
  • Cover up your laptop webcam.
  • Use the HTTPS Everywhere Browser Extension (available on Chrome, Firefox, Firefox for Android, and Opera). Help you use encrypted https whenever possible.
  • Turn off location tracking in apps.

I would also add a reminder about free and/or cheap password managers. All of my accounts now have their own unique, complex passwords. I can’t imagine not using one anymore. I still use 1Password mostly because it was the first one I tried, but if they force me into a monthly subscription I will likely bail. I’ve heard positive things about LastPass, KeePass, Dashlane, and RoboForm.

Marriott / Starwood Hotels Merger: Status Match, New Points Transfer Options

mr_spg2Marriott completed its acquisition of Starwood Hotels last week, and has already started the merging process for their loyalty rewards programs. Both programs will essentially be run separately for a while, but you can now match status and exchange points. The new name is Marriott International, although a full merger will not be completed until sometime in 2018. Here’s a quick summary of your options:

Manually link your Starwood Preferred Guest (SPG) and Marriott Rewards (MR) accounts at this Starwood page or this Marriott page. They will not be linked automatically. You can only link one MR account to one SPG account (and vice versa), so you’ll need to merge any duplicate accounts first.

If you are an elite member of one program, your status will be matched in the other program. SPG Preferred Plus = Marriott Silver. SPG Gold = Marriott Gold. SPG Platinum = Marriott Platinum.

You can transfer points both ways with no fees. 3 Marriott points = 1 SPG point. You can transfer up to the full balance of your account in increments of 1,000 points into the linked account. Ex. 1,000 Marriott points = 333 SPG points. 1,000 SPG points = 3,000 SPG points. Transfers should be instantaneous.

Points transfer and expirations. Transferring into Starwood will help extend your Starwood points expiration, but transferring into Marriott will not help your Marriott points expiration. If your Marriott points are really going to expire soon, just move them all over to Starwood? Taken directly from their Frequently Asked Questions:

If I transfer points from my Rewards account to SPG, does it count as activity against points expiration?
Transfers don’t count as a qualifying activity in the Rewards program, so transferring points won’t keep your points balance from expiring.

If I transfer points from my SPG account to Rewards, does it count as activity against points expiration?
SPG Starpoints don’t expire as long as your account remains active. Linking and transfers count as activity.

Possible new transfer options. You can now mix and match the various external partners to get improved or previously-impossible transfer options, including:

  • 60,000 Marriott points = 20,000 SPG points = 25,000 American, Hawaiian, Delta, or Alaska Airlines miles.
  • 18,667 Starwood points = 56,000 Marriott points = 25,000 United Airlines miles.
  • 90,000 Starwood points = 270,000 Marriott points = 120,000 Southwest points and 7 nights in a Marriott category 1-5 hotel. Why is this handy? Earning 110,000 Southwest Airlines points in one year will get you the Southwest Airlines Companion pass which lets you choose a friend to fly with you for free – for this year and the next! – your paid or points-redemption tickets. (If you want to do this, do it quickly, as this option may end prematurely…)

Credit card considerations. Given the 3:1 ratio, Chase Marriott card now has bigger relative sign-up bonus, but SPG American Express has earns more rewards on all everyday purchases.

  • Chase Marriott Rewards Premier Card can get you 80,000 + 7,500 Marriott points if you meet the purchase hurdle. 87,500 Marriott points = 29,166 Starwood points.
  • Starwood Preferred American Express can get you 25,000 Starwood points if you meet the purchase hurdle. You’ll also get 1 Starwood point per dollar spent = 3 Marriott points per dollar spent on all purchases.

Vanguard Advice on Dynamic Retirement Spending Rules

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There is a lot of focus on how to accumulate a big nest egg, but possibly even more complicated is how to spend it down. Vanguard Research has released a new whitepaper called From assets to income: A goals-based approach to retirement spending … [Read the rest]

Amazon Prints Promotional Codes: 50 Free 4×6 Photo Prints

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Amazon now does photo printing with Amazon Prints, starting at 9 cents each for 4x6 prints. Bound photobooks start at $19.99 for 8x11 with 20 pages included, then $1 for every 2 additional pages. Free standard shipping on all orders currently, with … [Read the rest]

Access from AT&T Review: Affordable Home Internet For Low-Income Households

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Access from AT&T is an affordable internet access plan for low-income households offered in certain areas with AT&T service. The cost is either $5 a month at 3 Mbps or $10 a month for 5-10 Mbps, depending on your area. According to their FAQ and … [Read the rest]

Ooma Hub Upgrade Offer: Discounted Telo + No Monthly Taxes and Fees

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I replaced my landline with Ooma VoIP home phone service over 6 years ago and and haven't had a monthly bill since. This ended up being one of those deals where early adoption was rewarded. First there was no monthly fees, then it was about $1 a … [Read the rest]

Join Fairmont Hotels President’s Club, Get 1,000 Free Aeroplan Miles

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Here's an offer for 1,000 free Air Canada Aeroplan miles if you sign up for the Fairmont Hotels President's Club loyalty program and use the enrollment code FED16 (embedded in link). Be sure to enter your Aeroplan number (join free here) under the … [Read the rest]

Secret Eaters: Fighting Your Unconscious and Semi-Consicous Choices

In my last Buffett post, I talked about the importance of tracking performance carefully when trading your own portfolios. Most casual traders "think" they are doing fine, but if you ask them their rate of return for the last year compared to a … [Read the rest]

Warren Buffett’s Ground Rules: Do-It-Yourself Investing Guidelines

Okay, so you probably aren't reading a book titled Warren Buffett's Ground Rules: Words of Wisdom from the Partnership Letters of the World's Greatest Investor if you are perfectly happy owning solely index funds forever. While the shared concepts … [Read the rest]

Barclaycard Arrival Plus World Elite MasterCard Review: 50,000 Points = $500 Limited-Time Bonus

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Limited-time bonus bump, updated review. The Barclaycard Arrival Plus(TM) World Elite MasterCard® is a travel rewards card that has opened up to new applications again, now with a limited-time sign-up bonus worth at least $500 and the annual fee is … [Read the rest]

Free 1,000 Virgin America Points for Newsletter Sign-Up

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Updated. Now twice the points for twice the newsletters... Get 500 free Elevate points when you sign up for the new Virgin America Hotels e-mail newsletter. * Offer valid until September 30th, 2016. Only one email address is allowed and only … [Read the rest]

5% Cash Back Credit Cards: Rotating Categories Update 2016

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Activation for 4rd quarter is now open! Do it now before you forget. The credit cards below offer a hefty 5% cash back on certain categories that rotate each quarter. It takes a little extra attention, but I also rack up over a hundred dollars … [Read the rest]