Monthly Archives: September 2008

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Box of PizzaBack when I stared writing on this thing that I call “Pants in a Can”, I didn’t so much think that I’d make it exclusively a personal finance blog. Main reason was that I didn’t think I’d have enough to write about.

And, let’s be honest, it’d be boring.

I mean, how exciting is it to read about how I just paid my VISA bill this morning or how the DJIA just reached some essentially meaningless number?

It’s not.

It’d kinda be like reading the Wall Street Journal.

Sure, there’s probably some decent info in there, but would it kill them to add a few more pictures or fluff pieces? I’m not saying they’d have to go all “USA Today” or anything, but find a happy medium.

At the start, I ranted and raved about annoying school buses, drivers from Virginia, and those PC vs. Mac commercials that drive me up a wall more than I complained of various finance charges and terrible customer service at Countrywide.

And you know what?

Going back and reading about my personal issues with those school buses and Virgina drivers, and that Mac guy, well, some of my posts used to be kinda funny. Mean-spirited, but funny. It’s a shame few read them. (hint, hint)

So, while I’ve tried to broaden the theme and shake things up a bit with my recent “Photo of the Week” posts (yeah, I know, they’re pretty dull), I thought I’d go back to occasionally ranting and raving about the stuff that I see all the time that annoys me to no end.

Like the latest PC vs. Mac commercial.

Yes, I’d opt for the free pizza.

The Mac guy could deliver it for me.

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    Broken Countrywide RecordI think I’ve made a breakthrough when it comes to dealing with Countrywide’s Customer Service Department!!!

    If you want to be acknowledged, you *need* to ask twice. Yes, twice.

    That said, they still probably won’t answer your question.

    It’s kinda funny, in an infuriating sort of way, because they actually responded to my original inquiry from August 30 — but only after I sent it a second time, well, yesterday.

    To me, that means that they were just sitting on it hoping my problem would just go away.

    What’s up with that? Last time I checked, that’s not customer service.

    To recap quickly (there’s a lot of back story to this whole saga that you can find here, if you’re interested), here’s what I submitted:

    Hello, I’ve called customer service twice and spoken to three people this week, all of which have been unable to answer my questions:

    1. Does Countrywide acknowledge the Homeowners Protection Act in regards to the automatic cancellation of PMI?

    2. At what point will the PMI on my account be automatically cancelled? I’d like a specific date please.

    Please answer these two questions for me.

    Pretty simple, right? Two questions.

    Just looking for a yes or no and a date. That’s it.

    I’m not asking “why” or anything that requires a long drawn out response.

    This is how they responded:

    Dear Brainy Smurf

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

    Please be advised that on August 27, 2008. A request to have the PMI requirements reviewed was submitted to our Mortgage Insurance Deletion Department. Once the research is completed a letter will be mailed to you advising of the outcome. This may take up to ten business days.

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

    No way! Are you kidding me?

    They’re going to send me another one of those letters that I’ve already got 4, maybe 5, copies of already. I’m thrilled. I mean, that’s exactly what I asked for, right? A letter. A letter asking me to send them $130.

    No, wait a minute… That isn’t what I asked for…

    A letter asking me to send Countrywide $130 doesn’t answer either of my questions.

    In fact, it doesn’t relate to the automatic cancellation of PMI or the Homeowners Protection Act at all.

    So basically, 5 letters, 10 back-and-forth customer service submissions, and a few phone calls later, I’m pretty much in the same place that I was back on July 15.

    That is, of course, if you omit the fact that I’ve been robbed of $85.15 for the past 3 months too…

    Thanks Countrywide, you know, for giving me the runaround for the past 60 days…

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      Countrywide has terrible customer service…A couple of months ago when I submitted an online customer service inquiry to Countrywide, it went without response until I submitted the request a second time.

      Seems history repeats itself.

      It’s been 10 days since my last submission. They claim on the website that it may take 1-2 days to respond.

      Obviously, they’re late.

      With that, I’ve just submitted my last inquiry again:

      Hello, I’ve called customer service twice and spoken to three people this past week, all of which have been unable to answer my questions:

      1. Does Countrywide acknowledge the Homeowners Protection Act in regards to the automatic cancellation of PMI?

      2. At what point will the PMI on my account be automatically cancelled? I’d like a specific date please.

      Please answer these two questions for me.

      Now to sit and wait some more…

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      Bank error not in you favorAs I do each morning, I logged into my Bank of America account to make sure that everything in my checking account was in order and as I expected it.

      I’ve been doing this sort of thing for, hmmmmm, probably almost 10 years now. It’s become part of my routine.

      In all that time, there has been only one instance of an inconsistency. Just one.

      Then, this morning, I saw this:

      Return Item Chargeback

      RETURN ITEM CHARGEBACK, eh? What is that?

      I clicked on the transaction. As is the norm, that doesn’t tell me anything. Sometimes I wonder why they even let you click on transactions for “more details.”

      At first I’m thinking, in a semi-panic mode, did I overdraw my account?

      That’s never happened.

      How could it happen?

      I strive to never dip below $750 $1500 (when Bank of America starts to charge me monthly maintenance fees).

      I haven’t written any big checks lately…

      There isn’t a holiday this week that could have messed up the dates on my auto-payments either…

      “Return item”? Maybe it’s a re-stocking fee of some sort. But I haven’t returned anything in years. And that would have gone onto a credit card, I’d think…

      And the term “chargeback” really makes it sound like a credit card transaction or something. My checking account is just that — a checking account. There isn’t a debit card attached to it. No little VISA or Mastercard logo on my card either.

      Maybe it’s a bank error — but not in my favor?

      Yeah, that must be the problem.

      A quick Google of “Return Item Chargeback” gave mixed results.

      You know, stuff from that “Yahoo Answers” service. Sure, they can call it a “new way to find and share information”, but in my experience, it’s been mostly misinformation…

      You’d think Bank of America would have a listing of all of their transaction descriptions somewhere on their website.

      They don’t.

      I looked.

      But I did come to the conclusion that it wasn’t an error on BoA’s part.

      It’s that one of my clients wrote me a bad check back on September 2 and this is it coming back out of my account.

      Thankfully, it was only $9.00. No sweat.

      But I’ve got to keep it in the back of my mind that before I do any large scale projects for them in the future, I need to be paid up front.

      Who bounces a $9.00 check?

      I almost feel bad for the fees they’re going to incur because of this…

      And how awkward is it going to be to let them know, “Hey, remember that $9 invoice I sent you? Yeah, well, you need to pay it again…”

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      Gerry Beckley of the rock band America

      This is photo I took today of Gerry Beckley from the rock band America.

      We saw them today at the Hebron Harvest Fair for $10. Yes, that’s two dollars less than it cost us to see Smash Mouth last week.

      For the younger set that may have never heard of the band America, well, guess what? They’ve been ripped off by Janet Jackson, used in the video game Grand Theft Auto, and in a recent Vera Wang commercial for Kohl’s.

      Guaranteed, you’ve heard their stuff — you probably just didn’t realize it. And no, it doesn’t suck.

      Janet Jackson sucks.

      I mean, who resorts to a “wardrobe malfunction” to generate press?  Who does that?  Seriously…  That’s bush league…

      Anyway, America’s show was much, much, much better than that of Smash Mouth last week, even being a member short — founding member Dewey Bunnell wasn’t on stage due to a “medical problem”.

      No worries for me though, my favorites by the group are all sung by Gerry Beckley and he was great.

      Being that I’m not really old enough to have heard their original hits when they first came out, my personal favorite is from the 1980’s.

      You Can Do Magic” from 1982 still holds up. I don’t know why, but for me, it does.

      Watch the video. I mean, it doesn’t get any cheesier than that. It just doesn’t.  Five guys facing forward with silly smiles on their faces.   Cheezy but great at the same time.

      Remember when all videos were like that? I do.

      Surprisingly, they opened the show with one of their bigger hits, “Ventura Highway“.

      At first, I was a little worried that that might mean they’d fill the next half hour with a bunch of new stuff that I wasn’t really interested in, you know, “Here’s a cut from our upcoming album…”, but they didn’t disappoint.

      I’m not much more than a casual fan, but they only played one or two songs that I hadn’t heard before. They had that many hits.

      Sure, these days the only place you’ll hear them in their entirety (and not just a few bars sampled by some talentless rapper) is at the dentist’s office or in line at the grocery store, but there aren’t too many bands that can play for well over an hour and fill the time with songs even the casual fan knows the words to.

      They closed the night with “Horse with No Name” which, unfortunately, was only so-so because Dewey Bunnell usually sings lead on that one. As I said earlier, he wasn’t there.

      The high point that really got the crowd going was an extended version of “Sister Golden Hair“. It’s another of their big hits and Gerry Beckley (the guy pictured above) was full of energy and sounded exactly like he did on the original recording some 33 years ago.

      Anyway, great show at a great price.

      Up next for us is the Guess Who in a couple of weeks. I’m not feeling real great about that show — I’m pretty sure the only real members touring with them right now are the drummer and the bassist. Neither one sang their hits.

      That’s the case with a lot of bands from the 60’s or 70’s (even the 80’s and 90’s really). You know, you run the risk of seeing a band full of a bunch of replacement members touring under the name of a popular band. A great example is Journey. I’m sorry, but without Steve Perry singing lead, you can’t call yourself Journey. But they do.

      America, to a degree, is no different in that respect. But the two lead vocalists are still around and the drummer and guitarist we saw today are the same two guys in that “You Can Do Magic” video from 1982…

      That was 26 years ago.

      Not much of a rotating line-up, which is probably why they still put on a pretty good show.

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        It’s not a Bill anymore…  It’s a law!Butch, a reader who has been following my PMI removal problems while going through the same routine himself, emailed me on Wednesday evening with a link to the full text of the Homeowners Protection Act.

        He wished to highlight the very last part of Section 2 which defines “termination date”:

        (16) TERMINATION DATE.–The term “termination date”
        means–
        (A) with respect to a fixed rate mortgage, the date on which the principal balance of the mortgage, based solely on the initial amortization schedule for that mortgage, and irrespective of the outstanding balance for that mortgage on that date, is first scheduled to reach 78 percent of the original value of the property securing the loan; and

        (B) with respect to an adjustable rate mortgage, the date on which the principal balance of the mortgage, based solely on amortization schedules for that mortgage, and irrespective of the outstanding balance for that mortgage on that date, is first scheduled to reach 78 percent of the original value of the property securing the loan.

        In Butch’s words, it’s “as though the FTC website is missing a crucial tidbit.”

        You know what?

        He’s right.

        The FTC’s “Alert” curiously omits any reference to paragraph 16A or 16B of Section 2.

        They simply state:

        If you put less than 20 percent down on a home mortgage, lenders often require you to have Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI). PMI protects the lender if you default on the loan. The Homeowners Protection Act of 1998 – which became effective in 1999 – establishes rules for automatic termination and borrower cancellation of PMI on home mortgages. These protections apply to certain home mortgages signed on or after July 29, 1999 for the purchase, initial construction, or refinance of a single-family home. These protections do not apply to government-insured FHA or VA loans or to loans with lender-paid PMI.

        For home mortgages signed on or after July 29, 1999, your PMI must – with certain exceptions – be terminated automatically when you reach 22 percent equity in your home based on the original property value, if your mortgage payments are current. Your PMI also can be canceled, when you request – with certain exceptions – when you reach 20 percent equity in your home based on the original property value, if your mortgage payments are current.

        One exception is if your loan is “high-risk.” Another is if you have not been current on your payments within the year prior to the time for termination or cancellation. A third is if you have other liens on your property. For these loans, your PMI may continue. Ask your lender or mortgage servicer (a company that collects your payments) for more information about these requirements.

        This “crucial tidbit” must have fallen under their “certain exceptions” or something… In my opinion, it shouldn’t have.

        Anyway, I was aware of this section of the law. Before I even called Countrywide, I wanted to make sure I wasn’t missing anything.

        Hard to believe, but I did actually read all 15 pages — though much of it does not apply to my situation.

        I was even prepared for Countrywide to respond with something very similar, half expecting them to, but they didn’t.

        That’s why I, again, resorted to Jedi mind tricks with my last online request.

        Okay, maybe I didn’t use any Jedi mind tricks, but I definitely opened the door for them.

        At what point will the PMI on my account be automatically cancelled? I’d like a specific date please.

        I mean, could I have given them a better set-up?

        Still no response.

        But if they do come back and plainly say, “July of 2010” or something, I’ll put this issue to rest.

        I won’t be happy but at least I’ll know where they got their answer.

        As of right now, they don’t have an answer at all…

        (And it also makes you wonder how so many people got their PMI dropped just by using the appreciation of their home rather than the size of their mortgage payments. There are all kinds of articles out there on the net from 2006 or so about that. If PMI isn’t supposed to drop until the amortization schedule says it is, well, what’s up with that?)

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        Individual Retirement AccountHmmmmm… Which to choose… I’m not really sure. I’ve researched the advantages and disadvantages of both and it’s just left me more confused than I was at the start.

        It seems most folks my age (32) lean heavily towards the Roth IRA because it’s taxed now and not in the future when you expect to be in a higher tax bracket.

        But unlike most folks my age, I’m a little bit more realistic when it comes to my earning potential and what tax bracket I’ll fall in to fifteen to twenty years down the road. I’m not optimistic.

        When nearing retirement, though taxes will most likely have gone up, I actually expect to be in a lower tax bracket than I am now so that “advantage” of the Roth is totally lost on me. The Traditional IRA wins out.

        On the other hand, with a Roth IRA, you can make withdrawals all along without penalty. No waiting until turing 59 and a half. If I need another $5k to build my dream garage or something, I can grab it from my Roth IRA and not get hit with a bunch of fees, penalties, and/or taxes. In that respect, the Roth IRA is clearly better.

        By the end of this year, I’ll easily have enough to fully fund one or the other. Obviously I’m still having a hard time deciding which is the wiser course of action.

        Further, I still struggle to come to terms with the idea that being limited to $5k per year will add up very quickly or keep me interested.

        I realized that the limit is increased slightly every few years, but even still — what takes me just three years of contributing to my 401k will take over a decade with either type of IRA.

        It just seems…slow? It is slow.

        The advantages, from my perspective, don’t outweigh the limitations — specifically, the low contribution limits.

        It seems like they’re little more than a way to supplement your savings — being limited to such a small contribution, it’s certainly not jump starting anything. It can’t.

        But maybe I’m *still* missing something…

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        Miley CyrusSo, I think it’s been pretty well established that I enjoy cheap entertainment.

        What, with my stories of Jordan Knight, They Might Be Giants (twice!), and Smash Mouth just in the past year or so…

        And to think, I never even mentioned that I’d also taken in Weird Al Yankovic, the Jonas Brothers, Aaron Carter, Bowling for Soup, and some kid from High School Musical (I forget his name…) recently as well. We even saw those two hip-hop violin guys that are on America’s Got Talent right now…

        Some are big names. The Jonas Brothers, specifically, are apparently HUGE right now.

        Others, well, admittedly, are not. Like Aaron Carter. Or the violin guys…

        But all of these concerts have had one thing in common — they’ve been cheap. Highest ticket price so far was last weekend’s rather disappointing Smash Mouth show. Twelve bucks.

        I bring this up because later this month Miley Cyrus is coming to town. Now, she’s not exactly one of my favorite artists — I can’t name a single song she sings — but I’d still be interested to see what all of the fuss is about.

        And I’ve no doubt that someday, in the future, I’ll see her at one of the agricultural fairs or something similar. No doubt.

        But not this year.

        Her tickets are (ready for this?) $300, $250, and $150 per seat.

        Can you believe that? It’s real. No joke.

        A nosebleed seat to see Miley/Hannah will set you back $150. Now, most of her fans aren’t old enough to go on their own (and the venue happens to be in a casino), so make that $300.

        If you actually want to visually see her, well, that’s a minimum $600 investment.

        I can’t believe I just called that an investment…

        Ironically, it was only a few years ago that I blew off seeing her father perform at a po-dunk little agricultural fair because I thought it would be a dud of a show.

        I mean, he had, what, maybe one or two hit songs?

        Don’t get me wrong, I know he was HUGE, but still, it’s not like he was on his way to becoming a music legend.

        History will undoubtedly repeat itself — I wouldn’t be surprised if I see Hannah Montana perform for less than $20 in fewer than three years once the hype runs it’s course.

        But back to those INSANE ticket prices — it blows my mind that someone can command that kind of ticket price and still sell out in a matter of minutes. It also blows my mind that ticket prices can be so high for an artist whose songs I’ve never even heard on the radio before.

        I mean, I get out.

        I don’t live in a box.

        Or maybe I do? Who the heck is Lil’ Wayne?

        Anyway, I know what Hannah Montana looks like and I’ve stumbled upon her TV show numerous times, but does she even have “a” hit song? Does she have two hit songs?

        Let’s be serious, that’s A LOT OF FREAKING MONEY for a concert!

        I’m trying to think of anyone I’d spend $300 to see.

        The Beatles can’t happen. McCartney on his own isn’t that big a draw. Springsteen? No way. The Rolling Stones are a complete joke at this point. Led Zeppelin? Nah, still not worth $300.

        Maybe Michael Jackson? Sure, he’s wacked out and a little creepy these days, but he’s got an endless supply of hit songs and, well, based on what I remember from the 1980’s, he has the ability to put on a show good enough to make people pass out. You don’t see concert footage like that anymore…

        Put them next to one another, Miley and Michael, and ask yourself, who’s the bigger star?

        Age aside, who would you pay more to see perform?

        It’s a no-brainer. This Miley Cyrus concert is a complete rip-off…

        In my mind, Miley ranks about as high as Steve Harwell

        Can You Dig It?

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