Tuesday, June 28, 2016

On Student Loans

The main goal of our tiny living experiment is to pay off our debt, which mostly consists of student loans. I wanted to talk about paying down our loans because I think everyone has different experiences and it probably largely depends on who holds your note. 

Chris's student loan is with ACS. They are a notoriously terrible company that people just can't get away from because they buy loans from more reputable banks (this is what happened to us). So you could refinance to get away from ACS, only to end up right back with them when they buy your note. 

For years, we've been paying the minimum payment on the loan because we trusted that the payment was structured such that we could pay it of before we were 100. But once we dove into our pay off plan and I started using the Snowball system, I wanted to make sure that all the extra money we were paying was going toward principal and not just pre-paying interest for the next 60 months. 

Here's a concrete example of how much ACS sucks: when we decided to make this loan the first one we paid off, we called ACS to make sure that extra payments went to principal. We got a customer service representative who spoke very poor English (not knocking him because he obviously speaks at least two languages, which is at least one more than me, but I am knocking ACS for employing customer service agents who can't serve customers). He may not have understood our question, but he straight up told us that all extra payments would be applied to principal. Uh, no. It turns out that ACS doesn't accept principal-only payments. 

So, I did some research and found this blogger who had encountered the same problem and had developed a pretty smart (and actually very simple) solution:
So let’s say your payment is due on the 15th, you make your usual monthly payment. On the 16th, call them and make the additional payment. Because no interest has really accrued in the one day since your monthly payment, every penny you send will go towards principal. I have done this and it works.
Yes, it does work. Interest is accruing daily; in our case, it's about $7.50 per day. You'll get the most bang for your payment if you make it on a day when no interest has been allowed to accrue, or maybe only a day's worth has accrued. 

I've been using this method for the last 6 months and it's actually amazing. In 2015, only 22% of what I paid to ACS went to principal. 78% went toward interest!!
78% went toward interest!!

Using the new method, 76% of what I've paid this year has gone to principal and only 24% has gone to interest. The great thing about this is that the amount of interest accruing each day will go down as the principal gets smaller. 

I don't know how other loan companies structure their payment plans. I hope most of them aren't shady as hell like ACS, but it's worth looking into if you have student loans that you feel like you're never going to pay off. 

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Book Review: Career of Evil

Note: This thing is filled with spoilers. Proceed with caution.

Career of Evil - Robert Galbraith (Cormoran Strike #3)

For background on the Cormoran Strike novels and my thoughts on the first and second books in the series, check out this post and this post.

Plot: A severed leg is sent through the "post" (I just love British words for things) to Robin at the office she shares with Strike. It is a woman's right leg, severed at the exact same location that Strike's is and there is a note in the box containing Blue Oyster Cult song lyrics. The lyrics are meaningful to Strike because his mother had them tattooed on her abdomen. Based on the brutality and sheer lunacy of someone cutting off a person's leg and sending it through the mail, coupled with their knowledge of the tattoo, Strike narrows the suspects down to three people from his past: his stepfather and two men he arrested while a member of the British military police. 

Thoughts: This book is much grittier than the previous two and does not start out slowly like they did. It opens with the stalker/killer following Robin through the streets of London and thinking hateful thoughts about Strike. So, yeah, that's another thing -- while the narrative is third-person like the other books, this one has chapters sprinkled in where the narrative focuses on the thoughts of the killer. I don't love this for two reasons: I don't always like POV changes because they can be really jarring but, more importantly, his chapters are so dark and creepy. Kind of makes me wonder what other disturbing things are rattling around in old JKR's head.

Ok, that sounded negative, but overall I was enthralled by this book. It was extremely engaging and the mystery was set up such that I kept changing my mind as to which of the three guys was going to turn out to be the killer. I also considered strongly that it would be none of them, but some other person that we hadn't heard much about. 

As with The Silkworm, I "read" this book via audiobook and cannot recommend that route enough. Robert Glenister is just a really talented narrator. 

Favorite part(s):

1.The mystery! I changed my mind about 100 times when it came to choosing who did it. [SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER -- TURN BACK NOW IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW THE KILLER!] I knew pretty strongly that Kelsey's sister was "It," but I also thought Strike would have recognized Ray as DL when they met face to face.

2. I really, really liked getting to know Robin more and learning about her back story. I was underwhelmed when she [SPOILER] decided to go back to Matthew, but I guess that leaves more dramatic plot options for the future. 

3. Strike and Robin's travels through England and Scotland were cool. I spent a lot of time looking places up on Google Earth as I read. I also loved all the different accents. Those Barrow-in-Furness accents were not easy to understand. Of course my man RG nailed them. 

4. Shanker's involvement in everything. He's not a good guy, but he helps both Robin and Strike to do-the-right-thing, as it were (of course he's got to be paid but -- baby steps). I also love how blindly loyal and protective he is. 

5. [SPOILER] Strike rushing to the wedding and then crashing around and making a scene cause he's a big bull in a china shop. 

Least favorite part(s):

1. [SPOILER SPOILER SPOILER -- TURN BACK NOW IF YOU DON'T WANT TO KNOW THE KILLER!] Maybe it's just because I've never experienced something like this, but I have a hard time understanding how Strike didn't recognize Ray as DL when they met face to face.

2. In the first scene when the killer is following Robin, he is thinking about Strike and calls him "Cormoran" in his head. But the original label on the leg box was addressed to "Cameron." Obviously, the killer knows his real name, so why the incorrect name on the address?

3. As usual, Matthew is a bottom-feeding asshole and I hate him. When he erased Strike's message...

4. Just the generally disturbing plot elements. So much violence or the allusion to it, especially sexual violence and child abuse. That is always hard to read. I think the great storytelling makes it worth it, but it's still tough. 

5. What's up with Strike being such a weirdo misogynist? Robin's not an anomaly for being hard-working, nice, cool, and sane, but he acts like shes the only woman he's ever met who is. He's particularly hard on his sister. I hope JKR gets more into the background of his misogyny in future books. 

My grade: A

Who would I recommend it to: Mystery-lovers who can get over the creepy inner monologue of a serial killer.