Monthly Archives: August 2008

2 986

Woo-hoo!  It’s Fair season!Yep, it’s that time of year again in New England.

Agricultural Fair season.

Now, I’m not into pigs, cows, sheep, and chickens or anything. Tractor pulls don’t get the blood flowing either, and trust me, these fairs are overflowing with that sort of thing.

I like the fairs for the low admission price and the top-notch entertainment — though much of it has fallen off the radar screen when it comes to mainstream.

Longtime readers may recall that last Labor Day weekend, we saw Jordan Knight of New Kids on the Block fame.

Laugh all you like.

Jordan KnightI said then, and I’ll say it again now, that I was never really a fan of NKOTB, but he put on a really good show.

Afterwards, I even downloaded “Hanging Tough”.  Again, continue to laugh…

Done laughing yet?

See, it only cost $10 to get in to see the show — and you could pet pigs, cows, sheep, and things if you really wanted to! That’s a deal.

Now, Jordan Knight will be back in the area later this month — but guess what?

He’s not playing local fairs this year.

He’s back to playing arenas with his bandmates. Tickets at the venue closest to my house are $62.50 and $47.50 each. Wonder if all those suckers that bought tickets for this tour realize that just one year ago these guys were playing local fairs.

And to think, for a 600% mark-up, you probably don’t even get to see a ribbon winning chicken or witness a sheep shearing contest. I’m not sure the New Kids could hold my attention long enough to make them worth $47.50…

Anyhow, I’ve got this year’s fair schedule set in stone already.

Over the next month or so, we’ll be sitting on some trampled grass or in uncomfortable bleachers watching bands such as Smash Mouth, America, and The Guess Who.

Up first, tomorrow afternoon, is Smash Mouth.

They haven’t completely fallen off the map so I’m expecting it to be a little crowded but for a few bucks, hey, they’re a band who still have three or four songs in heavy rotation (All Star, Walking on the Sun, and the covers of I’m a Believer and Can’t Get Enough of You, Baby) on the radio station I listen to.

I’m looking forward to it.

And, hey, maybe next year they’ll be back touring arenas and amphitheatres too…

But really, if you live in a part of the country that has these types of fairs, you really should look up the entertainment because, more often than not, a few of them will have an act you’d really like to see at a bargain price!

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    Countrywide Home Loans
    The more I think about my conversation with, well, I never caught her name, but the more I think about the entire discussion yesterday, the more I wish I’d at least gotten a solid answer to well, anything.

    Does Countrywide acknowledge the existence of Homeowners Protection Act?

    From what I can tell, no.

    Does a scenario exist where PMI is automatically terminated?

    Again, it doesn’t appear so.

    Had yesterday’s conversation gone differently, even with the same negative result, I think I’d still consider myself a satisfied customer.

    Unhappy, but satisfied.

    I mean, had she said something along the lines of, “Yes, Mr. Smurf, you have indeed reached the required loan to value percentage, but PMI will continue until the date that your original amortization schedule would have had you reaching that percentage. By the way, would you like to discuss refinancing options?”

    Yeah, that’s still a BS response, and still a rip-off, but at least it would have been some solid information. All I have now is a bunch of jumbled worlds — COV, market conditions, however, and Smorf…

    This morning I’m going to try the online customer service method again asking bluntly, “Is Countrywide aware of a law called the Homeowners Protection Act?” and “At what date will my PMI be terminated automatically.”

    I’ll also ask them not to send my another letter in 7-10 days. And I’ll also ask that that they not ask me to call customer service again. I’ve spoken to three people and no one has answered my question.

    5 1912

    Ben KenobiYep, this PMI cancellation thing just isn’t going to happen.

    Apparently the Homeowners Protection Act never existed.

    The idea of PMI automatically cancelling on it’s own is complete fiction.

    I made my call this afternoon to Lisa — who, if you recall, asked that I call back to check on the status of my request. She had given me her direct line.

    I called the number. Six minutes on hold and then the call dropped.

    Hmmm… This isn’t looking good already, I thought.

    I tried again. This time I was on hold for three minutes and woman named “Willa” answered. Hmmmmm… Willa didn’t sound one bit like Lisa.

    She asked if she could help, so I anxiously told her that Lisa has requested I call back to check in on the status of my PMI cancellation. Willa put me on hold.

    A minute or so passed and she came back on the line, “Mr. Smurf, our records indicate that a letter with further instructions to cancel mortgage insurance was mailed to you on August 27 and you should be receiving it within 7-10 days.”

    “Really? Well, I’ve already received that letter three times,” I responded. “I know what it says and that’s not what I’m calling about. See, Lisa said that she had emailed the MI Deletion department and that she’d likely have a response for me today.”

    “I’m not sure why she would have emailed them, I’ll transfer you — please hold.”

    I began to pace. I tried to rock out to the hold music but it wasn’t working. Nine whole minutes passed. Four extra seconds too. Yes, my phone at work is freakin sweet.

    Finally a woman’s voice spoke to me from the other end.

    I had to confirm my name and account number and SSN again. She spoke softly and had traces of an Asian accent. Had I not been on hold for so long, I would have hung up and tried again. I hate soft-talkers. Always have, always will.

    I didn’t catch her name, unfortunately, and she apparently didn’t catch mine either as she addressed me as “Mr. Smorf” three times in the first 30 seconds and for the duration of the call.

    I explained my whole situation again and guess how she responded?

    Yep, more nonsense about submitting a request to the MI Deletion department (isn’t that who I was just transferred to?) at which point a letter will be mailed to me detailing the blah, blah, blah…

    I calmly explained that I’d gone through this process multiple times already.

    I just wanted to know why my PMI hadn’t been cancelled.

    I explained that there is apparently a provision in my original mortgage agreement that states that once I reach 22 percent equity or a 78 percent loan-to-value percentage, PMI is supposed to be terminated automatically. That hasn’t happened. Why?

    She stammered a bit, I couldn’t understand (or hear?) her, and then she put me on hold.

    I fully expected to be disconnected.

    But then she came back.

    “Mr. Smorf, your current loan to value is 77 percent, however, a COV certificate is required in order to…”

    I cut her off and said, “The law is pretty clear — the loan to value is supposed to be based on the original property value at the inception of the contract. You just said that my loan to value percentage was at 77 percent. That number would be based on my original property value which, by law, means that I shouldn’t be paying for PMI anymore.”

    She stammered again and repeated what was obviously on the computer monitor in front of her — “However, um, market conditions are such that, however, LandSafe will have to conduct an appraisal but you, however, shouldn’t send the payment along with your regular mortgage payment.”

    What? “Yeah, that’s not what I’m calling about.”

    I told her that I’d heard all of that before.

    She then began to tell me that “the appraisal is only $130 and with that, PMI could be cancelled.”

    “Could be? Or would be?”, I asked.

    She stammered a bit and then responded with, “A real appraisal is usually over $300.”

    Yeah, see, I don’t care.

    I bought my house before prices skyrocketed. It hasn’t dropped in value. My tax records show that — and Countrywide pays my taxes for me.

    Even the neighbor from hell has their house on the market for $192k. My lot is bigger, my house is bigger, my house is, well, it’s just nicer. Even using that dump’s price, which is much lower than mine is worth, my $109k balance clears the bar by a good 30%.

    Market conditions? You want to talk about market conditions? Well, apparently, for customers like me who actually pay their mortgages each month, the current market conditions only benefit Countrywide. I have to pay additional fees when the market tanks? I don’t remember signing up for that when I bought my house.

    Sure, your business is in the crapper, but you know what? That’s not my fault. That’s not my problem.

    And hold on, the law and my mortgage both reference the original purchase price — NOT the current market value!!! Why are we discussing this?

    I didn’t say any of that, but continued to vent and argue my case.

    I even laid out a scenario as an example — my current balance on the mortgage is $109k. If next week, I submitted a payment of $108k, would Countrywide still not cancel PMI.

    “That is correct, Mr. Smorf.”

    “So, I could, infact have a balance of under one thousand dollars and I’d still have to pay PMI each month?”

    “Due to market conditions, however, a COV, um, investors are, however, at 78 percent, um…”

    That was the response. Can you believe that?

    Outrageous.

    “So, PMI will never be cancelled automatically, is that what you’re saying?”

    A long pause… “That is correct, Mr. Smorf.”

    I went pretty crazy at this point.

    I even started talking to the point that I needed to take a breath but I didn’t stop to take one. My palms were clammy. I even had to wipe my brow. That never happens.

    I asked if she was kidding — I mean, I had to.

    When I finally allowed her to get a word in, she suggested that I refinance.

    I told her that refinancing costs even more money than an appraisal. I don’t need to refinance. I’m perfectly happy with my rate. I don’t need to cash out and I don’t need to lower my payments.

    I just want my PMI cancelled which, according to the law, is supposed to be automatic and FREE!

    She then went back to her script saying, rather, she went back to reading that a COV certificate was mandatory due to market conditions.

    Every third word or so, she’d use the word “however”.

    If I had to write a transcript, it would real like Caitlin Upton’s “uh, the Iraq, everywhere like such as” response in last year’s Miss Teen USA pagaent. Seriously.

    I responded that I, quite frankly, didn’t care about the current market conditions. That’s Countrywide’s problem and not mine. My mortgage agreement was for a 30-yeard fixed rate mortgage with PMI to be dropped at the 78% mark.

    I then bounced another scenario off of her…

    What if I had made this request, and this phone call, two years ago, you know, before Countrywide essentially screwed themselves over to create the current “market condition”.

    Silence.

    She didn’t have an answer.

    It was an awkward moment. And it lasted, oh, maybe 10-15 seconds.

    Wow, I was actually acting like a certified arsehole. This was a new feeling for me.

    As the silence continued I thought she’d hung up on me…

    “Hello?”

    “Yes, Mr. Smorf, however due to current market conditions…”

    Wait a minute — I basically just got out of you that this actually has nothing to do with “market conditions”… This is apparently standard policy for Countrywide Home Loans. And how is it that they can just ignore the law like that?

    Whatever…

    I was at the point where I realized that I wasn’t getting any further today so I tried to wrap it up as politely as I could.

    I thanked her for her help — though my tone was less than sincere — and told her that I’d research my options, though she provided me none, and call back at a later date.

    She went back to her “script” and sheepishly asked, “Are there any other concerns I can help you with Mr. Smurf?”

    Nope.

    Then, in apparent closing, she said that “Countrywide appreciates your business and…” well, that set me off again…

    “Wait a minute. No, you don’t appreciate my business. I pay my mortgage payment every damn month. I’m not the reason for the current market conditions you speak of. I’m not calling about some hardship I’m facing or to re-negotiate the terms of my original loan or crying ‘woe is me, please don’t take my house.’ I’ve been asking Countrywide to hold up their end of the original deal for nearly two months now and I’ve gotten nothing but a bunch of bunk. I’m the ideal customer, and you know what? Yeah, I am a little bit upset about the situation Countrywide has put me in — not that you hadn’t noticed.”

    “I understand Mr. Smorf, however…”

    “No, however nothing. You’re screwing over your best customers by ripping them off. I am being ripped off. To the tune of $85 per month, I am being ripped off. How dare you ask me about refinancing with Countrywide. Really, why on earth would I give a company that rips me off any more business that I need to? And you know what? I am going to be a thorn in Countrywide’s side until this matter is resolved.”

    She apologized for the fact that I felt that and I ended the call. In case you’re wondering — no I didn’t hang up on her.

    Of course, I was just blowing off some steam.

    I’ll be honest. Hefty Smurf, I am not.

    Richard BlumenthalI’ll probably just end up paying the $130 for an appraisal but before that happens, you can bet that I’ll send a boatload of nasty messages their way, file a complaint with the FTC, and pass along the details of my ordeal to Richard Blumenthal, the Attorney General for the State of Connecticut.

    What’s that? You’ve never heard of Richard Blumenthal?

    Well, make a mental note, someday you will see his name.

    When it comes to Attorney Generals in this country, he’s the biggest badass around making national headlines on a regular basis. I’ve heard he uses Jedi mind tricks as well. Not sure if that’s true, I’m just sayin’…

    And not that he’ll pursue this, but he’s already sued Countrywide once and he’s the type that likes to pile on.

    Even if a letter written by a junior staffer full of fluff threats arrives at Countrywide’s door with Dickie B’s return address on it, well, it’ll get some attention. Of that, I’m sure.

    2 902

    Green Collar Job?If you’ve been watching the Democratic National Convention on C-Span all week, you’ve no doubt heard the reference several times.

    From the mouths of folks no one has ever heard of, all the way up to the likes of Jimmy Carter, Ted Kennedy, Bill Clinton, and Joe Biden, the one thing I’ve heard over and over, besides Bush-bashing and that McCain is “more of the same”, has been a reference to something called a “green collar” job.

    A what?

    I’d never even heard the term until Monday night. Never. Not once.

    It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to put two and two together. I mean, when I was in University lots of people I associated with spent their summers planting trees way up north.

    My current assumption would be that that could now be described as a “green collar job”.

    You know, just another example of someone or something jumping on the whole “Go Green and save the world” bandwagon led by Al Gore…

    It’s almost as if it’s an issue right up alongside universal healthcare in importance to the American people. At least, that’s what they’re attempting to make it out to be.

    Problem is, I’d never heard of it. And my guess is that I’m not alone.

    Plain and simple, it’s a buzz word.

    It doesn’t deserve this much attention.

    I read an example somewhere that tried to explain things. It listed a blue collar worker as someone who builds an SUV while a green collar worker is someone who builds a hybrid SUV.

    But seriously, don’t robots build both anyway? Are robots green collared workers? I don’t think that’s going to help the economy one bit… Obviously, I’m joking.

    Now, I’m not anti-green by any stretch.

    I think it’s a good idea but the concept of boosting the American economy through the creation of green collar jobs — and green collar only — is a total farce.

    Green collar jobs? I dunno. I think the white collar and blue collar labels pretty much cover the entire spectrum.

    Back to the tree planters — they were always of the “crunchy” sort. You know, the long haired, deodorantless, Birkenstock wearing crowd. They thought they were doing a great thing and earning a little money at the same time. I guess I can applaud that.

    The ironic part about it is that they were planting the trees in perfectly straight lines, you know, to make them easier to cut down ten to twenty years down the road. Their employer was just a third party hired to re-stock forest land owned by the lumber industry. How funny is that? They were actually working for the industry that they so despised.

    Today that’s called a sustainable forest but I’m pretty sure the environmentalists still go ape when the lumber companies come back in to clear cut the land.

    By that, I wonder if lumberjacks fall under the green collar tab?

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    Set it…and forget it!I’m really liking this set-it-and-forget-it plan that I’ve got going.

    Though I’m just 3 weeks in, the thought of carrying a four figure balance for a few months isn’t eating away at me the way it used to.

    The $1545 charge that I put on my card to additionally pay down the mortgage will be gone in 12 more weeks. No worries. The minimum payment is covered. All I need to do is make sure my checking account has enough in it.

    The weekly $103 transfer from my checking account isn’t budget breaking either. Dare I say it, it’s almost easy.

    Though it’s a sizeable balance, the entire account is out of mind because it’s on autopilot. It sort of feels like it will just evaporate on its own.

    So now I’m toying with the idea of adding the remaining balance on my auto loan to the plan. The balance there is currently $1532. I’m deep in the red zone. This is like first-and-goal from the 5-yard line. A gimme.

    Usually at this junction, I’d just pull out some money from savings and wipe the balance out. I’m in a position to do just that.

    But I’m reluctant to tap myself out (again).

    Now that the situation isn’t so dire, I’ve got to break from the hammer-and-chisel method of paying down debt that I’ve grown accustomed to.

    Sure, it’d be great to have the auto loan off of the books in a matter of days, but at the cost of sweating it out for a few more pay periods? Maybe even a month or more?

    It’s time to be a little more methodical about things. Pace myself. Easy does it. I mean, really, what’s the rush?

    My minimum payment is non-existent. The most recent statement said my next due date was December of 2009. That’s over a year away.

    And the finance charges per month are under $10 (down from a high of over $350/month when I was carrying so much credit card debt) so delaying the gratification won’t hurt financially.

    In a lot of ways, it may actually help because it will allow me to get a HUGE jump on my savings now rather than later.

    Ideally, I’d like to eliminate the car loan by December. That’s 13 weeks away.

    With a current balance of $1532, that works out to around $120 per weekly payment. I can do that.

    The left over income will go towards savings.

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      In acknowledgement of the DNC taking place this week, here’s LBJ sitting on hold with customer service.This afternoon I printed out all of my documents, got myself all pumped up to bestow my plight to an actual person, and dialed 1-800-669-9092.

      I took a big deep breath as I awaited a voice on the other end.

      “Thank you for calling the Private Mortgage Department. If you’re calling about a PMI deletion letter you’ve received, press 1.”

      Great. An automated system…

      Beep. I pressed “1”. I guessed was about a PMI deletion letter I’d received. THREE TIMES!

      A few bizarre clicks and a few computer whisper tones later, I was connected to Lisa who asked if she could help me.

      “Yes, I’m calling to try to cancel my private mortgage insurance.”

      She asked for my name, account number, and the last 4 digits of my SSN. Easy enough. Then she put me on hold.

      As the seconds became minutes, I began to pace. I tried to get into the funky acid jazz muzak I was being subjected to, but the anxiety I was feeling made it slap bass more annoying than anything else.

      Click — Lisa was back. She explained that she’d submitted a request to the MI Deletion Department and that I’d receive a letter in 7-10 days with further instructions.

      Wow, where had I heard that before?

      I’m pretty sure she thought her job was complete…

      Now, I didn’t turn on the rage. I just politely said that I’d thought that I’d already received that letter three times and then detailed to her that I’d submitted this request three times already.

      I went on to say that it was my understanding that once I’d reached 22% equity in my home based on the original value that the PMI would be cancelled automatically and that it hadn’t happened yet.

      She put me on hold again.

      This time the muzak had more of a country-rock sound to it. Really, it was like wimpy Lynyrd Skynyrd. Then it faded into the funky jazz.

      Lisa came back. She said that she was researching it and that it would be a few more minutes.

      “No problem”

      I paced.

      I paced some more.

      I started to nose whistle with the tune.

      Click — Lisa was back again. She said that there was a provision on my mortgage documents regarding a “78% Loan to Value Ratio”.

      To me, this was good news as I hadn’t used the number 78, so it wasn’t like she was just regurgitating what I’d already said — she must’ve actually read that somewhere when I was on hold. Things were looking good.

      She stated that she’d emailed the Mortgage Deletion people to see about getting it cancelled and that they usually take a day or so to respond. She gave me her direct line and asked me to call back to check on the status tomorrow.

      Now I’m thinking things are looking sketchy again. They’re going to say I need to pay $130 for an appraisal or something… I just have that feeling, you know?

      I said thanks, and then she tried to upsell me with a re-fi offer! Too funny…

      I declined, said thanks again, and ended it with, “Talk to you soon!”

      Total time on the phone was 12 minutes and 29 seconds. I *almost* recorded the call, but I’m pretty sure that’s illegal…

      Anyhow, with any luck, by the end of the week, my mortgage will be PMI free.

        3 1096

        He has the power of causing great pain!So Countrywide responds late last night to my inquiry in a timely fashion:

        Thank you for your recent Internet inquiry addressed to the Customer Service Department.

        Our initial research shows that we can best resolve this inquiry for you by speaking with you in person. We appreciate that you have initiated this inquiry electronically but to ensure that we can fully resolve your concern. We ask that you contact PMI Department on the contact number provided on the letter or at 800-669-9092. On behalf of Customer Service, we would like to apologize for any inconvenience this might cause you.

        Thank you for communicating with us electronically; we appreciate the opportunity to be of assistance.

        Hmph! They dodged my question again…

        The good news is that it appears that this most recent response was written by an actual human being — with the typo where a comma should be instead of a period.

        And since when it the word “internet” worthy of capitalization? Whatever…

        What’s upsetting is that I don’t want to call them. I want their response in writing, either online or through the mail. In my experience, he said/she said claims never get very far.

        It’s also very frustrating because I don’t believe that there’s anything to discuss anyway…

        The law is black and white.

        The math is simple.

        Over 22% equity means no PMI. By law, cancellation is to be automatic.

        Where’s the problem?

        I’ll make the call later today.

        3 1120

        Disgraced Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo — Where’d he get that un-natural skin tone?Guess what I received in the mail today from Countrywide?

        Yep, exactly what I expected.

        The same letter I received on July 14 and August 1.

        So now I’ve gone back to the customer service route that has failed me in the past.

        I’m not really sure why I bother.

        Oh yeah, because they bill me over $1k/year for something I shouldn’t have to pay for!!!

        Anyhow, I think I was a little more direct this time:

        Hello!

        On August 18, I submitted my third request online to have a Mortgage Insurance Review done on my account in an effort to have my mortgage insurance cancelled.

        Today, for the third consecutive time, I received the same letter from Countrywide stating that I need to schedule and pay for a home appraisal for my mortgage insurance to be cancelled.

        This is UNACCEPTABLE.

        According to the Homeowners Protection Act of 1998, Private Mortgage Insurance must be terminated automatically when the borrower reaches 22 percent equity in the home based on the original property value.

        Logging into my account and heading to the “Mortgage Insurance Deletion” section of the Countrywide website, it states that my current loan to value percentage is 77.879%.

        That means that I currently have 22.121% equity based on the original property value of $141,000.

        According to federal law, I no longer have to pay for mortgage insurance.

        Please explain to me why it has not yet been cancelled.

        Thank you.

        Of course, I’m not actually expecting a response that answers my one request for an explanation. I’m not that naive.

        In fact, if I were a betting man, I’d wager that Countrywide’s response will be:

        Thank you for your recent Internet inquiry addressed to the Customer Service Department.

        Our records indicate that we have requested the escrow review department to mail you the list of requirements if it is eligible for PMI deletion. Please allow 7-10 business days for receipt. If you should require any additional assistance, please contact our PMI Department at (800) 669-9092.

        Thank you for communicating with us electronically, we appreciate the opportunity to be of assistance.

        Yep, heard that before.

        If only the threat of filing a complaint with the FTC would get some attention… Sad, a threat like that is about as effective as a car alarm…

        Can You Dig It?

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